No one I know of is absolutely “skeleton-free” when it comes to past conduct, particularly in youth and early adulthood when stupidity—combined with hormones—gives way to things better resisted than embraced. I know I am not proud of things in my past. Painfully stupid. And politicians have skeletons too, just like everyone else. The difference is theirs are fair game in political campaigns when they seek to lead others.
One of Governor Ralph Northam’s is now exposed for national inspection and the result is personally devastating for him and profoundly embarrassing for the Commonwealth he leads. I would be surprised if he hadn’t made an effort to keep this “undiscovered”. That it remained unknown in the course of a couple of State Senate campaigns, a Lieutenant Governor primary—opposing an African American—and general election, and a primary and general election for Governor—is nothing short of a political miracle of sorts (or incompetence) given the robust opposition research or “oppo” that is conducted these days.
But it’s the latest of these, the general election where he defeated my friend Ed Gillespie—a good and honorable man—that infuriates me about this scandal. I agree that the picture of Northam is shocking and callous, and—yes—utterly racist. But what is also disconcerting to me about this whole affair is the determined effort of the Northam campaign in 2017 to paint his GOP opponent as a “racist”. I found that disgusting. Yet Democrats—who are calling for Northam’s head now—were quite happy then to tie Ed Gillespie to the uproar about Confederate statues and the events of Charlottesville—disgusting events the GOP candidate for governor condemned in the strongest terms. Yet Democrats persisted in painting him as an intolerant bigot with ads depicting Confederate flags waving and scared children running. For me, their attacks were a low point in a recent political history populated with lots of low points.
I don’t fault Northam for efforts I’m quite certain he made to suppress this sullied past. Most politicians do, particularly things that are plainly wrong in their past. But Northam was the President of the Honor Court at his alma Mata, the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) where honor—even today—is a serious thing. That includes not only sanctions against lying, cheating or stealing, not tolerating those that do, but the expectation of an honorable life as a cadet and yes…going forward too.
I believe that Northam had a duty to tell his campaign, based on his own past conduct, to resist the temptations of victory and political power spurred by false charges of racism he leveled at his opponent. That was dishonorable. Indeed, “people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones”, as the saying goes. But this was pernicious. Northam knew full well that charges of the racism leveled at his opponent amounted to a dishonorable smear campaign. So did his circumambient progressive sycophants thirsty for revenge for the loss of Hillary Clinton—who supported Northam—to Donald Trump a year earlier. Northam had a duty—even while he kept his secrets—to tell those surrounding him who lusted for power that winning right is more important than winning at all costs. That would be different in this age of bitter politics where “taking no prisoners” is the standard, even if you have to accuse a person of rape to prevent him from becoming a supreme court justice. Northam joined that despicable chorus too. He has apologized for his actions in 1984. I think some more apologies—to others—are due forthwith.
One of my former colleagues has suggested to me that “had we known then what we know now” about Northam’s past, that others and I would not have lost our bids for reelection in 2017. I have my doubts about that. The hatred for President Trump was profoundly clear that year in Virginia, and unjustified. (And it resulted in the election of some pretty far left people who have shown their inability to govern since.) That “hate wave” alone would have been hard to overcome even with a very flawed Democrat candidate who would have been disgraced had this picture been revealed then. But this I do know. There are some things in life worth losing for, including standing by one’s principles. I know. I have. But when the desire to win engulfs you to the point that you are willing to falsely accuse others of the very things you have done, your right to lead others—including them—is forfeited.
That should be present in Governor Northam’s calculus as he decides what course he will take…going forward.