My father-in-law is a big fan of A&E’s cop show “Live PD.” In one scene, a man is questioned about an open container (a bottle of Rolling Rock) and he is subsequently patted down. When the pat-down uncovers a small quantity of marijuana, the officer asks about it and the suspect starts to respond, then quickly shifts to denying that the pants he is wearing are his own. “These are not even my pants; these are my friend’s pants.”
It’s a good illustration of a bad lie quickly falling apart. The weed was wrapped in an auto parts store receipt from earlier the same afternoon. Initially the suspect denied having gone to the store. Then he acknowledged putting the pants on that morning. When confronted with the time printed on the receipt, the suspect admits that yes, he did go to the store, but still continued to claim that he did not know how the weed got in the pant pocket. Yeah, right.
This week the governor of Virginia was exposed as having a photograph on his 1984 medical school yearbook page depicting a couple men holding cans of Budweiser: one man is in blackface and the other is wearing a KKK costume.
Governor Ralph Northam apologized on Friday for his decision to appear in the photograph. On Saturday he did a 180 and denied being either of the men in the photograph. We can imagine him saying “That’s not even my hood. That’s my friend’s hood.”
If he thought it would help him, Northam would probably say that he is BOTH people in the photograph, along with some self-serving nonsense about how the photo proved that he was “woke” thirty years before the word took on its present-day meaning.
People are going to see that 1984 photograph through the lens of their own life experience and come to all sorts of different conclusions. However, I think that most will agree that dressing up in blackface and Klan gear, posing for a picture in costume, and posting that picture on a yearbook page were all stupid, offensive things to do — even in 1984.
As my wife pointed out (and I had completely overlooked), since both men are disguised — one in blackface and one in a hood — we may never know for sure who those people are. Is it too much of a stretch to consider that one of the governor’s advisors came to the same conclusion after Northam had admitted being one of the men? A voice in Northam’s ear, or one in his own head, told him to deny that he was in the picture.
So, what might have been a teachable moment about the stupid, offensive things we sometimes do and say, and how attitudes can change, is now a conversation about how someone’s story changes when the heat is on.
Today a Washington Post editorial called for Northam’s resignation.
A call for Northam’s resignation is not about “political correctness,” as many people will assert. It is not mere political correctness to demand that white people stop blackening our faces for laughs. It is also not seeking some kind of “ideological purity” to expect our elected representatives to represent ALL of us. Democrats should have a reasonable expectation that our candidates share core Democratic values. We should also require them to meet high standards of conduct.
People do and say all sorts of stupid, offensive stuff. That’s ALL people — me, you, everybody. There is no one who can run for office plausibly claiming otherwise. What’s more, in 2019 there are any number of ways to find out what people have done and said.
How is it, then, that we keep electing people who pretend that some of their life history simply never happened? We don’t have to look beyond the White House for a prime examples. Sure, you thought I meant the current occupant of the White House, and I did, but I was also thinking of another president who declared “I did not have sexual relations with that woman…” and yet another who said “…people have got to know whether or not their president is a crook. Well, I am not a crook.”
Right, and these aren’t even my pants.
There is a weird sort of denial of reality that happens when people are caught in the act.
A lot of people who run for office seem to think that some of the stuff they’ve done and said is just never going to come out. When what you’ve done is publish an offensive photo in a yearbook, did you really think that nobody would notice? Did you not consider that somebody out there doesn’t especially like you or what you stand for?
Avoiding detection is a bad plan when you run for public office and have a history of racist photos, domestic abuse arrests, recorded comments about grabbing pussies, etc. We live in a digital age and our lives are ever more thoroughly documented. Whether that’s a good thing is debatable, but there is no denying that it is happening.
Yet some of our candidates pretend that some part of their documented past is invisible or just doesn’t matter and we keep electing them.
A lot of people are saying that Democrats are shooting ourselves in the foot by pushing some of our own, such as Al Franken, out the door. Well, in the short term, maybe. In the long term I have to believe that purging bad actors is the right thing to do. We need to get them out.
Republicans, are you listening?
Northam must go. The Democrats around him, especially Virginians, should be urging him publicly to resign — not just because he did something stupid and offensive in 1984 and hoped it would go away, but because he tried to wiggle out of it when it became public.
Northam’s credibility is shot and it’s tough to govern if nobody trusts you.