"Absolute failure of leadership descending to Trumpian levels of disaster" doesn't begin to describe how badly Virginia Democrats have screwed up in the last week. The Washington Post editorial board today officially joined the national party apparatus in calling for Gov. Ralph Northam's resignation.
GOV. RALPH NORTHAM (D) can no longer effectively serve the people of Virginia who elected him. His shifting and credulity-shredding explanations for the racist photograph on his medical school yearbook page, and the silence into which he then succumbed for days — after initially promising to do “the hard work” of atonement and apology to restore his standing with Virginians — is simply too much. His decade-long record in public office is admirable; it is equally true that his governorship has been irredeemably wrecked by the self-inflicted, racially callous and clueless mess he has made in recent days.
Having initially admitted and apologized for appearing in the offensive photo, which showed one person in blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan garb — Mr. Northam performed a head-spinning pivot a day later and denied being either personin that image. His about-face was undercut by simultaneous revelations and acknowledgments — that he wore shoe polish on his face for a dance contest after medical school; that “Coonman” was among his nicknames in college.
He put out word that he was determined to stay in office and clear his name and that he would seek a private investigator to unearth the truth about the yearbook photo, which he said is “not me.” It struck us as reasonable that he should have that chance. But since his artless, tone-deaf news conference Saturday, the governor has gone to ground and been heard from no more. No more light has been shed, no exculpatory information has emerged.
Facts do matter, and the ones surrounding the Northam fiasco remain unsettled and unanswered. First and foremost among the questions they raise: How could he possibly have admitted to something as damning as appearing in the photo if he was certain he wasn’t one of the people in it? How did that photo wind up on his page if he didn’t furnish it to the yearbook editors? What do the governor’s now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t statements say about his judgment? The explanations Mr. Northam has proffered are vague and unconvincing. Virginians deserve better. Mr. Northam’s time is up.
Unfortunately, it's becoming more and more clear that Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax cannot serve as the state's chief executive either.
Virginia Democratic Congressman Bobby Scott was made aware of allegations of sexual assault against now-Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax over a year ago by the alleged victim herself, ABC News has learned.
Scott learned of the allegations directly from Dr. Vanessa Tyson, who on Wednesday released a statement detailing the alleged 2004 assault, which took place at the Democratic National Convention in Boston.
Fairfax vehemently denies the assault claim.
In a statement given to ABC News on Wednesday, Scott wrote, "Allegations of sexual assault need to be taken seriously. I have known Professor Tyson for approximately a decade and she is a friend. She deserves the opportunity to have her story heard.”
The accusations against Fairfax did not come out of the blue. Karen Tumulty at the Post has every right to ask if Democrats will back Dr. Tyson in the same manner that they did Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's accusations against Brett Kavanaugh. The answer must be yes, or we are the party of Trump's misogyny and racism too.
As Peter Hamby at Vanity Fair writes, there's no fixing this. The best Dems can hope for is that Northam appoints someone other than Fairfax, and ideally a black woman, to become Virginia's first female Governor of color to start learning from this utter debacle.
By the standards set forth by Democrats over the last two years, all three of these men should have resigned by now. In the cases of Northam and Herring, it’s clear cut: racism has no home in the Democratic Party, full stop. It is a party committed to racial justice and empowerment, and even the most modest of racial transgressions have to be reckoned with. A white man with a racist blemish on his record must face public consequences, because for every tarnished white man, there is an equally capable woman or person of color ready to step into the political breach. Every Democrat in the country made this loud and clear after Northam’s yearbook photo surfaced, fueled in part by the comfort that his replacement would be Fairfax, a next-generation leader who would be only the second African-American governor in the South. Herring, too, called on Northam to resign, a four-day-old statement that Herring now must reckon with given his own stupid behavior. All of it has provided us with a new definition for white supremacy: when you’re a white person who does dumb, racist shit—and you don’t know even know it.
The Fairfax situation, as with many cases of sexual assault, is more complicated. Fairfax’s callous dismissal of his accuser’s claim as “uncorroborated” reminded us of the uncomfortable truth around these stories, which is that the facts surrounding them are usually of the he-said-she-said variety. (Our nation’s long, disgraceful history of harshly punishing African-American men based on false accusations of sexual assault complicates the equation further.) But the #MeToo revolution has affirmed for the world that accusers deserve the benefit of the doubt and an honest airing of their charges, in order to hold powerful men to account. This, too, is a standard that has been adopted by the Democratic Party, first with the Al Franken controversies and then with the Kavanaugh hearings. Franken was accused of groping many women, and several of those accusers were anonymous. And yes, some of their stories were “uncorroborated.” But led by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a brave group of female senators stood up and spoke out against Franken, demanding that he resign. “We should demand the highest standards, not the lowest, from our leaders, and we should fundamentally value and respect women,” Gillibrand wrote on Facebook at the time. Democrats must hold themselves to a standard higher than partisanship, the argument went. If members of our party behave badly, we must treat them the same as Republicans who do. “You have to stand up for what’s right, especially when it’s hard,” Gillibrand said in another interview during the Franken drama. “And if you create a pass because you love someone, or you like someone, or admire someone, or they’re part of your team, it’s not O.K., it’s just not.”
The Kavanaugh parallels might be more direct. An accuser from another time comes forward with a credible charge, just as the accused is preparing to assume a position of considerable power. At the first hint of Ford’s accusation, Democrats spoke up, demanding that the confirmation process be paused and that Kavanaugh confront the charges. But at the first hint of Fairfax accusations, Democrats were uncomfortably silent, and they continue to be, in some cases embarrassingly so. At the State of the Union address on Tuesday, Bernie Sanders and D.N.C. Chairman Tom Perez were chased down by pesky conservative reporters asking for comment on Fairfax. Both hilariously pretended to be taking calls on their iPhones to avoid them, even though video plainly showed that their screens were not in call mode. At another time, would they have stopped to deliver a comment about Kavanaugh? You bet.
With apologies to Gillibrand, who is now running for president under the banner of female empowerment, there are no Democrats standing up for what’s right at a moment when it’s really, really hard. National Democrats can claim that this Fairfax story is none of their business, because they aren’t immersed in the details of Virginia politics. Unfortunately, since every Democrat in America felt comfortable weighing in on Virginia politics after the Northam scandal broke, that is no longer an argument they can make. Democrats, too, are urging caution and waiting for the facts to come out, which would have been reasonable in an earlier time. But as with most matters of race and sex in the age of Twitter, the public standard on the left is no longer wait and see. It’s rush to judge. That there are zero Democrats willing to speak up on the Fairfax matter is an intellectual and moral headache for the party. What’s more, it’s a dynamic easily weaponized by bad-faith actors on the right who are more than happy to paint Democrats as sanctimonious hypocrites on cultural issues.
We will not beat Trump in 2020 if we can't be better than him. Right now we are not. The longer this Northam/Fairfax/Herring mess goes on, the more clear that becomes. It's no longer a question of dirty tricks and oppo research bombshells, it's now "do the right thing or perish as a party."
And the state's Republican leaders? Same problem.
A Virginia Military Institute yearbook overseen by future state Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment in 1968 features a host of racist photos and slurs, including blackface.
The revelation about one of Virginia's most powerful Republicans comes as the state’s Democratic governor and attorney general are facing calls to resign over their own admissions they wore blackface as young men.
Norment, R-James City County, was managing editor of The Bomb publication that year. He went to VMI after graduating from James Blair High School in Williamsburg and has been a state senator since 1992.
Do better, entire state of Virginia. That needs to start today.