Politics and Forgiveness – a Proposal

by John Holbo on February 9, 2019

Governor Ralph Northam is fighting to stay, so he says, because the alternative is being unfairly tarred for life as a racist. (Sorry, I can’t find the quote. Correct me if I’m wrong. But somewhere in this blizzard of articles on the controversy he has said something to that effect. He is obviously thinking it.) This is so backwards. The correct solution is he should leave and, on the way out the door, he gets sympathy for his political misfortune and … yes, forgiveness and absolution. Go, and sin no more. But go.

He needs to leave, not because of what is or isn’t in his heart – or was or wasn’t in his heart – but because his continued presence makes it impossible for Democrats to take a strong, consistent, stand against racism. If any Democrat knows that, by staying in office, they hinder – rather than helping – he or she should step back for the good of the party, on behalf of the values it stands for. That said, there is no reason on earth to doubt that Northam is a different man from the one in that picture. Morally. It’s common sense – not just common courtesy – to believe he’s changed and would not do that today because he knows better. (That guy in the picture was a Gillespie voter, for sure.)

Another case. It was right for Franken to resign. That said, if Al wanted to run again, after doing time in the wilderness, that would be ok, I say. So long as it wasn’t some misbegotten resentment protest against the #METOO forces that, rightly, pushed him out in the first place. Suppose Franken said: ‘I’m ashamed of what I did, and I understand why my fellow Democrats felt I had to go, under the circumstances, but I am asking the voters of my state to allow me to return.’ If he framed it like that, if he then won, then – hell – why not? He’s good at Senatoring; seems like a good guy, who made mistakes. I’m not saying the voters of the great state of Minnesota should – or shouldn’t. Or Al should – or shouldn’t. But if he won his way back, after leaving, I would consider it bad form to try to override redemption with a ‘no forgiveness’ frown of sustained disapproval. It would be nice to see some model of post-#METOO reputational rehabilitation. It would make it easier to show the next Northam the door.

Conservatives cry crocodile tears. As Jeet Heer says: it’s like a little play. It’s a mistake to get sucked into treating bad faith as good faith. All the same, if conservatives can shift from ‘shouldn’t wear blackface’ to ‘but is it quite entirely fair to punish so severely after 35 years?’ then the first lesson gets lost, behind the fog of that second thought. That’s not just politically disadvantageous for Dems but just plain … bad. A teachable moment that doesn’t teach, because it affords those who need it a bad excuse to plug their ears, isn’t worth much.

So: the Democratic Party should informally but explicitly pre-commit to the norm that, in cases like this, you step down, or back, for the good of all, but – if you seem like you’re sorry, and it was a long time ago, and it was meant as a joke, and standards really have shifted since – you are forgiven. The penalty: immediate professional demotion. Not: permanent moral exile. The upside is you DON’T get tarred for life. Leaving in a case like this should be framed as an occasion for reputational salvage. It shouldn’t need to be the last blast in some ‘bounce the rubble’ reputational demolition. It shouldn’t need to come to that.

This horrible trifecta regarding the three top Virginia Dems. There’s no way for it not to be awful. It looks to me like the Dems are stuck. All three should step down but, if they do, a Republican is next in line. That would be not just humiliating and a tactical rout but, in a way, as fundamental a betrayal of the trust of the voters as anything else. The voters wanted a Dem.

Here’s my best proposal, which depends on everyone being honest and open about what is at stake, and why the problem is being handled this way. Fairfax should resign, due to these credible accusations of sexual assault. He can proclaim his innocence (maybe he’s innocent), but, since his continued presence prevents salvaging the situation, he has to go, for the good of the party. (I’m not suggesting that quitting, if you are guilty of rape, gets you off the hook for that. But he should quit either way.) Then Northam commits to resigning, for the good of the party, but only after the following happens. Herring (third in line) needs to quit, and then (if I am reading the rules correctly), the Virginia General Assembly elects a replacement. From Wikipedia: “When an Attorney General resigns, it is the responsibility of the Virginia General Assembly to elect a replacement to finish the term of office. Often the Chief Deputy Attorney General is chosen, as in the case of Judith Jagdmann.” The General Assembly, which has a narrow Republican majority, would presumably elect a Republican. But here’s the deal Northam offers. If Fairfax resigns, and then Herring quits, and the General Assembly picks a suitable Democrat, to reflect the will of the voters, then I, Ralph Northam, will resign, and that person shall fill my seat.

If Fairfax and Herring then resign, and the General Assembly breaks the deal, by electing a Republican, trying to snag the Governor’s seat unfairly, then Northam can stay with a clean conscience. He tried to do the right thing. He did the only thing he could to arrange the least-worst betrayal of the trust of voters. The Republicans wouldn’t let him. End of story. Sounds good to me.

{ 107 comments }

1

Mike Huben 02.09.19 at 1:09 am

“It would be nice to see some model of post-#METOO reputational rehabilitation.”

That would be an improvement over the tarring for life.

But the first thing to note is that perhaps a statute of limitations should be in order. The second thing to note is that wearing blackface is not a crime, even if it is more obnoxious now (unlike sexual assault/battery.) And that begs the question of which is better: elected officials that did something obnoxious 30 years ago or elected officials who are working against health care and voting right?

There is a simpler and more obvious proposal that could be made: they could resign when Donald Trump and Brett Kavanaugh resign. Nobody’s perfect, but it’s obvious these guys are better than the Republicans.

2

John Holbo 02.09.19 at 1:47 am

There is merit in what you say, but it doesn’t work – either practically or morally – to issue all Dems a ‘get out of personal moral misbehavior jail because you aren’t as bad as Republicans’ card. That’s the mistake we all made with Bill Clinton. We should stop making it. It’s intolerably corrupting in its implications. We need to find a way to make folks pay a penalty. And the statute of limitations idea is likewise sensible but unworkable. There can’t be an informal norm that it’s 10 years or something. It can’t be arbitrary like that. The line needs to make sense in itself. The line should be: you are screwing things up for the Dems. Every time we hold the Reps accountable for racism, they haul our your yearbook. Sorry, but you have to go.

3

Faustusnotes 02.09.19 at 1:52 am

Why doesn’t Northam just say “I was a republican in my youth but I saw the error of my ways”? Lay the racism on the gop and let them say he should resign for having been a standard repub.

4

Asteele 02.09.19 at 3:04 am

Actually don’t think people should resign for things they did before starting to run for government unless its in the clear interests of their constituents. (I understand this will be interpreted partisanly). But I support democracy that way.

5

bob mcmanus 02.09.19 at 3:46 am

Uhh, how bout white men shouldn’t be making this call, doing the forgiving, establishing the rules?

6

Chip Daniels 02.09.19 at 3:54 am

I can’t help but think that the long term benefit of defining the progressive cause as one firmly and implacably opposed to racism and misogyny is worth the immediate electoral beating of letting a few officials go.

7

Nicholas Gruen 02.09.19 at 5:25 am

You mention the possibility that “it was meant as a joke”. I understand that my father who was a Jewish refugee from Europe, whose mother was engulfed in the holocaust dressed up at a fancy dress ball on board a ship in the late forties or early fifties as Adolf Hitler.

That was a joke. Should he have resigned as a university professor if a snap of it was discovered many years later?

I don’t want to suggest that I’m all that confident of my ground here, but it seems to me to be so possible that the photo cited here was meant in high irony in the early 1980s. As I recall it in Australia at least (and we do irony a lot more here than you guys in the US admittedly) there was lots of ironic quotation of deliberately politically incorrect stuff.

I think it was distasteful then at least in public where some misunderstanding is possible and indeed part of the irony really, (though I probably did a bit of it myself). And it’s more distasteful now.

I can’t see why it’s a resigning offence against good evidence of bona fides on the job.

8

VA Voter 02.09.19 at 5:28 am

While I agree with the general sentiments in your post, I don’t like your proposal for Virginia. First, because I don’t trust Republicans to honor any deal to pick a Democrat, and once all three have resigned, I don’t think there’s any way for us to hold them to such a deal. Second, because even if they did pick a Democrat, it would be the worst kind of Democrat possible. To give an example that’s especially close to my heart and which is probably related to the curious timing of all of these scandals, it would certainly be a pro-life Democrat, and the governor’s veto power is the only thing stopping our state from passing creatively evil laws like the trans-vaginal ultrasounds requirement (which is effectively state-sanctioned rape). The main reason I voted for Northam in the primary because he was firmly pro-choice! You can bet that they wouldn’t be a flaming progressive on racial, economic, immigration, environmental, or LGBT issues either.

The choices suck, but I think AG Herring should be our next governor. At least Herring proactively admitted what he did wrong, didn’t botch the apology, and wore blackface as part of a Halloween costume portraying his favorite rapper. Northam has said all the wrong things, he wore blackface as a fully grown adult (med student) as part of an egregiously racist costume that was paired with another guy’s KKK costume, and he apparently went by a nickname that included a racial slur. It is heinous that we are in a position where we have to weigh one blackface incident against another blackface incident and credible rape allegations, but that’s where we are right now, so it’s a question of picking the lesser evil among many evils. Under normal conditions, I’d say blackface is plenty of reason to resign, but it is simply not fair for us voters to have our popular will subverted and our fundamental human rights violated because Herring wore a racist Halloween costume decades ago when he was a teenager.

More generally, while I think Democrats ought to try to pick leaders of upstanding character and jettison the worst offenders from the party entirely, we would do well not to lose sight of the overarching strategic contexts in which decisions about resignations occur. Even terrible human beings can do significant good in office, and even morally upstanding human beings can be bad policymakers. Let’s not forget that LBJ – that corrupt, vote-stealing racist and serial sexual harasser – got the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act passed. I’m not saying we ought to admire him for it or knowingly elect people like him again, just pointing out that a politician’s personal immorality doesn’t inevitably translate into net negative policy consequences. Symbolic rejection of racism and misogyny is great and we should absolutely indulge in it when we can afford the cost, but symbolism shouldn’t come at the expense of enabling the passage of policies that would materially worsen the lives of women and people of color across this state. Given the current context and the likely consequences if all three were to resign, I think it would be a monumental blunder to give up control of the Virginia state government.

9

John Holbo 02.09.19 at 7:01 am

“Uhh, how bout white men shouldn’t be making this call, doing the forgiving, establishing the rules?”

Yeah, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that, Bob.

No, seriously. I think you just misunderstood the post. I’m not making the call. Obviously not. (How could I seriously be in a position to do that?) I’m making a suggestion about what a reasonable attitude would be but that’s very different from being the one to make the CALL. One of the problems with the situation is that there isn’t any possible person really in a position to make the call. There isn’t a forgiveness czar, last time I checked the calendar. There aren’t significant precedents. The #METOO thing is, what, three years old and this blackface thing is new, too. Uncharted waters.

10

John Holbo 02.09.19 at 7:06 am

“First, because I don’t trust Republicans to honor any deal to pick a Democrat, and once all three have resigned, I don’t think there’s any way for us to hold them to such a deal. “

That’s why in my dream Northam doesn’t resign until after. I agree the Republicans couldn’t be trusted to honor a deal.

I agree that this digging up relatively minor episodes from the distant past is kind of crazy, since there is absolutely more important stuff to worry about. But I think it’s actually kind of important to go ‘no tolerance’ about this for a time, to establish a clear line of division between the Democrats and the Republicans.

11

VA Voter 02.09.19 at 7:21 am

If we’re dreaming, I’d like a do-over popular election that ends with a progressive woman of color with no skeletons in her closet taking office instead of any of these clowns :-)

12

John Holbo 02.09.19 at 7:36 am

Yeah, I was kind of doing a no-time-travel thing with my thought-experiment.

13

VA Voter 02.09.19 at 8:18 am

No, I meant that now (post-scandal) we should have a new popular election instead of having the state assembly vote for us. Though it’s only *slightly* less unlikely than time travel as a solution to our current predicament, it actually *would* make for a cool state constitutional amendment for the long term.

14

J-D 02.09.19 at 9:34 am

The thing that strikes me most forcibly about this is the illustration of an advantage of parliamentary systems. When a Prime Minister (or Premier or Chancellor or Chief Minister or whatever) is forced or driven or hounded or eased out of office, what follows is the same as what follows a resignation for health or other personal reasons or a death in office: the same government continues in office under a new leader. The transition is seldom or never completely seamless, but it has to be a sight better than what you’re trying to operate with currently. Also instructive is the example of Tasmanian Premier Robert Cosgrove (I don’t expect anybody to have heard of him, but he’s easily looked up if you care). Indicted on charges of bribery and corruption, he was replaced as leader of (the same) government by a senior Cabinet colleague, Edward Brooker; after Cosgrove’s trial and acquittal, he was enabled to return to the Premiership by Brooker’s resigning (although being retained in Cabinet).

I’m not expecting Americans to change to parliamentary systems (they do, after all, have their own shortcomings), but there is another institutional solution which would fit in much more easily: it’s regular enough in the US for vacancies in legislatures to be filled by special elections, and in several States the same can happen for executive offices if a recall petition is approved, so why not the same procedure for any executive vacancy? That’s also what the French do: President de Gaulle resigned unexpectedly and prematurely, and the holder of the office designated by the relevant constitutional provisions assumed the powers and duties of the presidential office on an interim basis only, pending a fresh Presidential election as soon as practicable; President Pompidou died in office and the procedure was exactly the same. Again, I don’t imagine the institutional mechanisms provide a completely seamless transition, but again they’ve got to be a sight better than the ones you’re working with now.

None of this, I know, is a help with the instant case in Virginia, but people should think about these things.

15

John Holbo 02.09.19 at 11:13 am

Well, the Chief Deputy AG is this woman. Her getting tapped to replace the AG strikes me as the least insane way forward, realistically.

https://www.richmond.com/news/virginia/sunday-q-a-cynthia-hudson-virginia-s-chief-deputy-attorney/article_5ae72ad5-d819-5ea2-a9ff-32ee01ec1924.html

16

Mitchell Freedman 02.09.19 at 12:06 pm

I think we had better do political calculations here. It is not just Northam. It is Fairfax and the VA AG. If all have to resign for their prior behaviors that do not appear to have anything to do with who they are now, then the Republican legislature will choose the next Governor, Lt. Gov. and AG. These things all came down from a right wing website wanting to attack these guys as VA was going to pass a progressive pro-woman abortion rights bill. I just keep going back to the question, Does the conduct of Northam have anything to do with his views on racial policy today? It is at best attenuated in the sense the most one may say is he is not in full Michelle Alexander mode, based upon Northam being at heart a neo-liberal. The stuff on Fairfax, the Lt. Gov, is getting worse by the day, and people really had high hopes for him. The VA AG did blackface in VA in the 1980s too in his youth. I wonder if a Republican in the AG position would be an improvement; actually I don’t wonder.

17

Mike Huben 02.09.19 at 12:15 pm

John Holbo:

I’m really glad you’re engaging in this discussion.

” it doesn’t work to issue all Dems a ‘get out of personal moral misbehavior jail because you aren’t as bad as Republicans’ card”

Yet that is essentially the decision individual voters make. Dreams of candidates without skeletons in their closet are absurd: I’m sure we could find childhood moral misbehavior for everybody, and probably adult moral misbehavior as well. Should they get a pass now? By what standard? Should they take immediate professional demotions? What if you smoked pot, a criminal offense? What if you speeded?

The illegitimate demand for absolute purity is a conservative weapon: if you accept its validity, you are being suckered. The only rational solution is to be progressive: look for what is better. Prefer people who gave up overt racism 30 years ago to those who promote racism now.

18

Robert Zannelli 02.09.19 at 12:23 pm

I don’t agree. It’s far more important for Virginians that Northam remain as governor of Virginia now than his resigning for some incident that took place many years ago. Under Notham African American voting rights was protected and he extended medicaid under the ACA. It should not be overlooked that two democrats junior to him are also attack making the Repugnant speaker of the house in line for the governorship. As long at the Repugnant party defend the low IQ sexual assaulting, Russian mob boss and traitor in chief in the White House , they should just keep there traitorous mouths shut about Northam

19

Mitchell Freedman 02.09.19 at 12:27 pm

And John, the Chief Deputy AG would not become the AG if the AG had to resign. The Republican led legislature gets to choose the next AG (see bottom of article) http://www.fox5dc.com/news/what-happens-if-virginias-gov-lt-gov-and-ag-all-resign

20

Lee A. Arnold 02.09.19 at 1:01 pm

Please forget political calculations.

Northam should have said, “I didn’t even MEAN it at the time, we were just trying to be outrageous, like on Halloween. Kids do it, even big old stupid kids like me who should’ve know better. I’m so sorry about my insensitive past. One of the reasons I ran for public office is to stop hatred and make life better for everybody. I am going to serve in office until the next election and then let the voters decide my fate, based on what I can do about it.”

He should say it today, and tomorrow on the Sunday talk shows. And then he should make his whole administration into a teaching moment, right into the next election. Make 2020 about how Dems can do better.

But it may be, that he hasn’t got the psychological depth. A very very very big problem in this society is that adults are psychologically about 10 years old and unable to make real public apologies and let the chips fall where they may. And they can’t speak from their hearts. At best it’s scripted tonedeaf trash. Did I write “very” enough. This condition applies across the board.

On the conservative side, they’ve adopted the tactic of claiming they’ve found Jesus and this virtue-signals some of their voters while it masks continued iniquity.

21

John Garrett 02.09.19 at 1:58 pm

This too will pass: for once, I’m deeply thankful to Jeff Bezos. When it passes, we have a governor in VA who is mostly with us (in my view the Lt. Gov. won’t, and shouldn’t, last). There is a huge difference between their offenses. I’ve never worn blackface but I’ve done things when I was young and even more stupid that could be publicized and exploited. But maybe I’m the only one here. I’d hate to see young people looking for a career in public service not trying anything stupid because of publicity fear.

22

steven t johnson 02.09.19 at 2:09 pm

bob mcmanus’ suggestion that melanin deficiency=franchise deficiency is antidemocratic in every sense of the word. The universal desire of the noble-minded for a window into the soul forgets it is unnecessary. Sadly, the sufficient approximation is that everyone is contaminated by racism. The cultural revolution wiping out racism will not succeed simply by examining the past. Worse, if everybody’s guilty, then nobody’s really guilty. This kind of thing is more about not changing things, despite the hysteria.

The OP’s maundering about forgiveness ignores how the whole point is there is to be no forgiveness, ever. Don’t know if some remnant of human empathy forbids accepting the principle, or if it’s merely tactical to pretend anyone will ever be forgiven. Regardless, the thing is, since Northam is a racist, then everything he does and has done, and his party, must be racist too. Any effort to supposedly purify the Democratic Party by a sacrificial scapegoat is therefore racist as well.

Northam’s evil includes support for abortion rights. This is not by the way, but essential to the whole issue. Since Northam will not be on the ballot again, he’s gone. The voters can decide about Fairfax and Herring. This is not an electorate composed solely of white men.

The calls for both all three to step down means of course people do not distinguish rape from being an asshole doing racist “humor.” This seems odd to me. It also seems odd to imagine that school, especially high pressure school, makes someone an adult in the sense implied. By an amusing coincidence, there is a recent burst of publicity about grad school in particular being bad for your mental health. Of course the modern view is that mental illness isn’t an excuse.

(Anyone trying to claim Northam is a racist but his political career hasn’t been racist is saying that Northam had already rehabilitated himself. But, then, only a damn fool would want to dump Northam.)

23

LFC 02.09.19 at 2:28 pm

From what I know of this, and I haven’t been following all the details, I don’t think Herring should resign. People often tend to do silly, thoughtless, harmful, stupid things when they are teenagers. Brains still developing, peer pressure, etc. Not a new thing (cf the story about the theft of the pears in Augustine’s Confessions). For that matter if Kavanaugh had taken a different attitude and admitted and apologized for his assault of Ford (which he likely committed, whether he remembered it later or not), I don’t think in that case the assault wd have been grounds to vote against his confirmation — though I would have voted against him on other (that is, political and ideological) grounds.

Holbo’s proposed approach of putting the perceived electoral interests of the Dems above everything else strikes me as too rigid (for lack of a better word), and I have never voted for a Republican for any office (and have been voting for a long time).

24

Pittsburgh Mike 02.09.19 at 3:27 pm

This is, to be fair, a ridiculously complex proposal that has absolutely zero chance of being followed.

Look, if you believe Northam, neither he nor Herring did anything particularly bad, especially for the time — they dressed up as African American performers using dark makeup; I’m not calling it blackface because the latter assumes you’re dressing up as part of a minstrel show in order to ridicule Black people.

Northam’s not going to resign just to put someone else in the office (assuming the Lt Gov resigns). The Republican state senate/house isn’t going to participate in something as weird as this.

25

Omega Centauri 02.09.19 at 3:39 pm

If I me be allowed to go slightly off topic, but in a way that a hope reflects some light upon the current era:
We seem to be in a time where every person whose position puts them prominently in the public eye faces an unprecedented minefield, based upon perceptions of past or current actions. One of the things that disturbs me, is that this minefield has never been mapped out and the map made publicly available. So even sincere people are at some degree of risk of stepping on one. I find this offputting, if I was considering ever aspiring to a highly visible public position, I would decide against it. That seriously shrinks the talent pool. So if we are going to live with this minefield, at least educate the public about what the mines look like.

I know few white American’s know the history of blackface, because it just isn’t taught. That is probably because it isn’t pleasant, and isn’t part of the history as affirmation of our historical greatness as a nation. So we’ve created a situation where sincere, but naive people are at risk of being lumped in with the worst of the worse.

26

TM 02.09.19 at 4:00 pm

Do you really believe some obscure transgression of a politician *in their youth* makes them unfit for office purely out of the perceived need for symbolic purity? It seems a highly problematic principle, arguably even a violation of human dignity. Not to mention how counterproductive it is certain to be politically since it will always be the more decent politicians, or the parties with the more decent supporters, who will submit to such strictness, leaving the less decent side with a huge advantage.

27

William Timberman 02.09.19 at 4:04 pm

Sorry, Mr. Politician. You’ve climbed all the slippery slopes, sucked up to all the right people, hired all the right consultants, shined your shoes, cinched up your tie — and now they want you to go. Just like that, a life of unceasing self-promotion down the tubes. For what? A youthful indiscretion, right? It just isn’t fair.

Wrong. I’m old enough to remember these guys — Clinton, Kavanaugh, Northam, or guys very like them, at any rate — when they were kids. They were assholes then, and they’re assholes now. Me and my dissenter friends, we always knew they’d end up running the world. The surprise is that they’d ever have to pay even the slightest price for their behavior. If I were asked, I’d say to them all: It was never about you. Just go. We’ll get along fine without you.

28

Cranky Observer 02.09.19 at 4:25 pm

= = = If we’re dreaming, I’d like a do-over popular election that ends with a progressive woman of color with no skeletons in her closet taking office instead of any of these clowns :-) = = =

Not to defend any of the Virginia Trio, and feeling somewhat betrayed at having contributed to Northam’s campaign at a distance to help beat back the hard Radical Right and now seeing this, but I’d be curious where you are going to find a human being with the drive and ambition to win any office at the State Attorney General / State Secretary of State or above (Governor, Senator, etc) with “no skeletons in [his/her] closest”.

Barack Obama perhaps came close, but he started his campaign by admitting upfront to having used pot and cocaine – which would have been immediately disqualifying even 20 years before – and used his personal coolness factor to overwhelm any attempts to dig too deep into his party guy young life. Given the speed of his rise and Ryan’s total collapse in the Senate race he didn’t have much time to accumulate major political skeletons but again that’s a rarity. And that is the absolute best politician in the cleanliness sense we have seen in at least 100 years. Neither people of high ambition or those who have been involved in cutting deals/logrolling for 30 year political careers are of the type to be that clean.

29

J. Bogart 02.09.19 at 4:57 pm

Your proposal is a little confusing.
“he gets sympathy for his political misfortune” — but he has to go not because of bad luck or misfortune but because he has done something seriously wrong.
“He needs to leave, not because of what is or isn’t in his heart – or was or wasn’t in his heart – but because his continued presence makes it impossible for Democrats to take a strong, consistent, stand against racism.” So, it is not committing a serious wrong. But drawing a line at, say 20 years can be part of a consistent stand against racism. Or is it that a consistent stand requires no toleration of any misconduct (of this kind) ever anywhere?
“That said, there is no reason on earth to doubt that Northam is a different man from the one in that picture. Morally. ” So he is not the guy in blackface any more but we should treat him as though he is.
” if conservatives can shift from ‘shouldn’t wear blackface’ to ‘but is it quite entirely fair to punish so severely after 35 years?’ then the first lesson gets lost, behind the fog of that second thought.” The last does not follow, and it is a bit foggy why the second thought is foggy. Pretty well entrenched and understood how misconduct long ago need not be held against one.
“The penalty: immediate professional demotion. Not: permanent moral exile. The upside is you DON’T get tarred for life.” But you are known more for being forced out of office because of something you did 30 years ago than for holding the office an what you did in the office.
Yet, the end you offer is plain old quotidian politics. Northam resigns to make a moral point, but to make the point he first strikes a log-rolling deal with Republicans. That makes it hard to take the moral positions preceding a bit suspect. It suggests that Franken’s resignation was good in part because the Party did not lose the seat — that is not a strong consistent stand (a moral position). The strong consistent stand would seem to be Northam resigns, Lt Gov resigns, AG resigns.

In another post I wonder if you would explain why Northam should not be left to election decisions. Or better, some general discussion of when electoral processes should be short-circuited. I assume that you think the same standards apply without regard to party affiliation, but I suppose it could be ‘for the good of the party’ all the way down.

30

Patrick 02.09.19 at 6:07 pm

“Shirley Sherrod should have stepped down before Obama had to fire her” probably isn’t a winning move here. But if the standard is “distracting from the fight against racism” then that’s exactly what she should have done.

31

Heshel 02.09.19 at 6:24 pm

32

Lupita 02.09.19 at 6:52 pm

Going from believing one race is superior to another (19th century race quackery) to all races are equal (20th century race quackery) has not ameliorated racism. I suggest the US government, political parties, and universities publicly state the truth: human races are not a scientific or anthropological category. Races do not exist. If Wikipedia can do it, so can Americans!

But then, how would Americans speak of poverty and privilege without sounding socialist?

33

Theophylact 02.09.19 at 7:53 pm

I wonder if a Republican in the AG position would be an improvement; actually I don’t wonder.

Considering who the last Republican Attorney General of Virginia was, there’s no need to wonder at all.

34

Marc 02.09.19 at 8:05 pm

The division that’s being established is to cement an image of Demcrats as nasty fanatics in the public consciousness. A *lot* of Democrats resent the hell out of these zero tolerance tactics. They also give Republicans a convenient tool to overturn election results: in this case, wait until after a couple of Dems are elected; dig up decades-old pictures, regardless of their current politics and deeds; and get your people in office instead.

I really hope that Northam stays, to make the point that these kinds of tactics don’t work.

And, FYI, a zero tolerance culture has been utterly devastating for young black men. Attitudes that reinforce that culture do their own damage – in the form of things like making it harder for young men and women to recover from all sorts of early mistakes. And, no, you don’t get to choose to apply these rules only to middle aged white men. As you say, you’re setting a precedent and an example.

35

Jason Weidner 02.09.19 at 9:30 pm

Alternatively, as you allude to in comment 15, Northam could wait until Fairfax resigns or is removed, and if a suitable Democrat replaces him (like Cynthia Hudson), then Northam should resign.

36

Birdie 02.09.19 at 10:15 pm

Seems “NO Tolerance!! EVER!!” is the same as right-wing Purity tripping and since it only works one way, unlimited license for trolling. Notions of acceptable speech really are changing rapidly and making them retroactive seems … not workable. We accept that historical figures have good and bad sides; maybe we can accept/forgive/pardon properly self-corrected bad behavior that didn’t actually harm any particular person. We make it part of the platform that moral progress is possible and indeed the duty of elected officials and others, a regular expectation of moral development. THAT would be different.

Sexual and other harassment ever is bad and disqualifying, not being sufficiently woke 20 years ago is unfortunate (but everybody here was there).

37

Glen Tomkins 02.09.19 at 10:39 pm

Democrats don’t want to take a strong consistent stand against racial inequality. If we did, the top two items on that agenda would be integrating schools and ending the laws that gave us a War on Drugs and a War on Crime that put so many blacks in jail. There’s nothing wrong with being against merely symbolic racism, even merely symbolic racism that someone displayed 35 years ago, but if we’re going to hold our politicos accountable, maybe we should consider prioritizing things like our separate and massively unequal education system, and the mass incarceration of blacks.

It’s easy to be against racism, strongly and consistently, if all we mean by that is that we’re against an attitude.

38

John Holbo 02.09.19 at 11:04 pm

This discussion is interesting, and running more in a ‘all this purity stuff is overboard’ than I expected. Let’s discuss that.

On the one hand, all this purity stuff is overboard. I accept that as obviously true in a sense.

On the other hand, you can’t just let it slide. I think that’s also obviously true.

It would be nice if there were a ‘normal thing to do’ in between too much and too little. Then we could do that. But there isn’t a norm here. We are suspended between old standards, which we recognize as inappropriate, and new standards, which are not-yet-existent. Any point you pick in between is somewhat arbitrary and unprecedented, which is unsatisfying.

Bob McManus started us out by suggesting that maybe white males (like me) shouldn’t be making the call. I attributed that to Bob’s own pushy penchant to not distinguishing between giving advice, or reasons, and making a call (‘here’s what I think, but it’s not my call’ is not McManus’ style, to say the least.) My retort was: obviously I’m not setting myself up as someone who gets to make the call here. But maybe I was unfair to Bob, or maybe the post was mis-written. The only person who gets to make the call as to whether Northam stays would appear to be Northam, unfortunately. There is no mechanism to force him out, in this case, if people want him to go, but he doesn’t want to go. But there isn’t really someone – some body – he can ask for absolution/forgiveness/permission from. There isn’t forgiveness or atonement court for stuff you did 30 years ago. So, in a sense, he can’t get forgiveness. Whether he stays or goes, he won’t be forgiven. From his point of view that sucks. If you are damned either way, might as well stay in the Governor’s mansion is not an unreasonable moral calculus, although messed up.

You could point to polling data, indicating African-Americans want him to go. They do! But that seems a bit sketchy. You want to make sure it’s a good poll and that it makes clear to respondents that they are, literally, voting on whether to remove the Governor. Referendum democracy is one thing. Referendum-ish democracy is sketchier. The least bad thing Northam could do along these lines would be, himself, to constitute a (reasonable-seeming) body of African-American officials and lawmakers (probably) to decide his fate, one way or the other. And he pre-commits to accepting their decision. Up or down. Up and he stays and his apology is accepted. Down and he goes. That would be not a crazy way to play it.

39

politicalfootball 02.09.19 at 11:25 pm

The problem with Northam isn’t what he did 30 years ago. It’s what he did last week. If you can’t explain how you are different from a person who thinks a Klan costume is funny, then you really need to go. Fairfax also needs to go. Herring passed the test, I’d argue.

40

alfredlordbleep 02.10.19 at 12:09 am

aside
On the conservative side, they’ve adopted the tactic of claiming they’ve found Jesus and this virtue-signals some of their voters while it masks continued iniquity—Lee A Arnold

Reminds me of G W Bush in the Oval Office crushing his eyes with the power of prayer—make it true Lord, make it true. (Cheney beside him with a sceptical look of don’t-overdo-it-George). The dominoes fell in Iraq and across the Middle East to collide eventually with Western Europe. If refugees may be thought dominoes.

41

Sebastian H 02.10.19 at 12:16 am

We can make common sense moral distinctions. Blackface in the minstrel style of lampooning a general black person, or doing some sort of cosplay with the KKK, is horrible and your rules can apply though they seem over lenient to me. Paying homage to a black person you admire and dressing as them with makeup 30 years ago as a teenager is stupid and forgivable. Not being sure if you might be the guy in the KKK hood is a totally different level.

Being unable to even look at distinctions of intent and use really is overblown purity politics which should be resisted.

42

bob mcmanus 02.10.19 at 12:45 am

indicating African-Americans want him to go. They do! But that seems a bit sketchy. You want to make sure it’s a good poll and that it makes clear to respondents that they are, literally, voting on whether to remove the Governor. (and all following)

Can you get any more patronizing? My guess is the Virginian AAs were a large percentage of the vote that elected Northam. Are you telling them to “calm down” think it over, you don’t understand or know what you want, maybe the offense wasn’t that awful bad, we should get some complicit AA elder statesmen to go carefully over the consequences.

The AAs are the (primarily) offended parties, and the correct call for us is to listen to them and follow their lead, as quietly and humbly as possible. If they matter other than as voting material to be used and then ignored, then we support them, not try to find a way out.

I guess it’s Northam’s decision to resign, without much other recourse, which means then, that we should add our voices to the African-Americans of Virginia (if we think it is our business at all; I mostly don’t) and increase the pressure on Northam until he can no longer govern.

And vet our political assholes more carefully in the future.

43

John Holbo 02.10.19 at 1:13 am

“Are you telling them to “calm down” think it over, you don’t understand or know what you want, maybe the offense wasn’t that awful bad, we should get some complicit AA elder statesmen to go carefully over the consequences.”

Obviously not.The people who take the poll won’t have designed the poll. The average AA on the street, who might be asked, is not also moonlighting as a pollster.

I’m saying if you are going to impeach-by-poll, the poll has to come labeled as an actual referendum vote. We don’t do by-the-by democracy where you ask people their opinion without telling them that you are collecting their vote. Not normally. At a minimum you would have to frame it as more like a signature campaign than an opinion poll.

We are running again into the problem that there is no conventional, ‘normal’ way to handle this informally. And establishing any formal procedure seems arbitrary and kind of over-the-top.

“Can you get any more patronizing?”

I think I could. I think I could provide evidence it can be done.

44

Asteele 02.10.19 at 2:37 am

According to polling the electorate is split on if he should resign or not. But a majority of both democratic voters and African Americans don’t think he should resign. So this all seems like a poor platform to support forcing him to resign.

45

Kurt Schuler 02.10.19 at 2:49 am

The opening post did not mention the important incident that preceded the events it related, though post #16 did touch on it. A member of the Virginia House of Delegates, Kathy Tran, introduced a bill that would have allowed abortion up to just before birth with the approval of a single doctor, rather than three doctors as under existing law, and would have eliminated the standard that the pregnancy must “substantially and irremediably” harm the mother’s health. When asked in a radio interview what would happen to a baby born alive whose life the mother wanted to end, Northam replied that “The infant would be delivered, the infant would be kept comfortable, the infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired. And then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.”

It is also worth mentioning that Ibraheem Samirah, the Democratic nominee for an upcoming special election to the House of Delegates, issued statement Friday evening apologizing for anti-Israel and anti-Semitic social media posts.

I am a Virginia Republican, and I think I speak for many of my kind when I say that we would be content to let Northam, Fairfax, and Herring remain in office if Democrats would henceforth forever refrain from saying that their party – the party of slavery long ago; the party of Jim Crow in my childhood; and now the party of infanticide, possible sexual assault, blackface, and anti-Semitism – has any claim to moral superiority.

It would be nice if it if many more people would refuse support to candidates who have flagrantly violated basic moral norms, such as committing adultery, destroying evidence that was under subpoena, or lying about their origins to get ahead professionally. (Blackface, while an offense against good taste, is not on the same level.) The evidence, though, is that most of my fellow voters, irrespective of party, do not share my view.

To end on a lighter note, Prof. Holbo, I appreciate your humor in #43.

46

Orange Watch 02.10.19 at 2:59 am

JH@38:
It would be nice if there were a ‘normal thing to do’ in between too much and too little. Then we could do that. But there isn’t a norm here. We are suspended between old standards, which we recognize as inappropriate, and new standards, which are not-yet-existent. Any point you pick in between is somewhat arbitrary and unprecedented, which is unsatisfying.

Saying we must err on the side of caution by pursuing the purest, harshest consequences until satisfactory new norms are established is quite literally suggesting we must establish the purest, harshest consequences as the new norm.

47

John Holbo 02.10.19 at 3:03 am

“I am a Virginia Republican, and I think I speak for many of my kind when I say that we would be content to let Northam, Fairfax, and Herring remain in office if Democrats would henceforth forever refrain from saying that their party – the party of slavery long ago; the party of Jim Crow in my childhood; and now the party of infanticide, possible sexual assault, blackface, and anti-Semitism – has any claim to moral superiority.”

Well, I’m afraid I’m going to hold out for a Democratic party that has a legitimate claim to moral superiority! Partly that will involve the party holding itself to a higher standard, on race and sexual assault issues, than Republicans hold themselves to. (We will have to agree to disagree about abortion, but I hope to see the day where Republicans – if they stay stick with the party, if they have a sense of shame – just go around feeling properly ashamed all the time.)

48

John Holbo 02.10.19 at 3:41 am

“Saying we must err on the side of caution by pursuing the purest, harshest consequences until satisfactory new norms are established is quite literally suggesting we must establish the purest, harshest consequences as the new norm.”

Well, in my defense, my post is an attempt NOT to do this. You have to step back BUT you are forgiven. That’s you paying your debt and then it’s paid. The harshest would be: you have to quit and you can never be forgiven even if you quit. I deliberately try to map out a way to avoid that harshest of consequences.

49

Patrick 02.10.19 at 6:00 am

I mean, realistically, “you have to quit and you can never be forgiven even if you quit” is what we’re stuck with no matter how many think pieces we write about it. Any other option will require people to say, openly, “yes, the thing he did was bad, but it wasn’t that bad, so let it go” when faced with people who are still angry about the bad thing. No one is going to do that. It doesn’t matter how diplomatically you phrase it, people aren’t so stupid as to not understand. The moment anyone tries to put forgiveness into practice their efforts will be labeled “minimizing racism” and will be dealt with the same way black face is dealt with.

People will be “forgiven” in only two scenarios, neither of which are really forgiveness.

One is they declare “damn the torpedoes” and latch on to something so important and to which they are so indispensable that others are forced to work with them. Call this the Trump Doctrine. “You may hate me but I’m President and I’m not going to resign so I guess you’re going to work with me whether you like it or not.” That’s probably what Northram is going to do. Democrats in the Virginia legislature can complain about it all they want but they’re still going to work with him because that’s literally their job and they can’t sulk about it for the entire election cycle. They can work with him while condemning him, but eventually they’ll be sufficiently complicit in the eyes of anyone who agrees with the condemnation that they’ll be nervous about furthering that point of view. So they’ll stop.

The other is if they can find a constituency that isn’t sufficiently left wing and online, and latch onto that. Rebuild supporters and a professional record and hide in that area away from the people who now despise you until enough people think of you in terms that don’t reference your misdeeds. We could call this the Louis CK technique, though he hasn’t pulled it off yet. Maybe we can call it pulling a Roman Pulanski.

Forgiveness requires a concept of perspective, and of bad behavior as having a gradient. But the ideology of the day involves discussing society as if its made of monolithic, doctrinal movements in which everything is connected. Its a sort of organic society liberalism- like organic society conservatism, except instead of saying “everything is connected, man, that’s why you can’t legalize gay marriage, it might disrupt society in unknown ways!” they say, “everything is connected, man, that’s why you gotta call out people for being overly dismissive of callouts none of us will otherwise defend, because that’s the only way to unravel white supremacy and patriarchy!” And that doesn’t allow gradient.

TLDR you need to first convince people to reconceptualize their entire idea of what racism even, like, IS.

50

J-D 02.10.19 at 6:08 am

Kurt Schuler

It would be nice if it if many more people would refuse support to candidates who have flagrantly violated basic moral norms, such as committing adultery, destroying evidence that was under subpoena, or lying about their origins to get ahead professionally.

Adultery is not a violation of basic moral norms.

51

nastywoman 02.10.19 at 8:21 am

all of this helps tremendously to un-politicize
and
to help US focusing on fighting a…holery –
(instead of some less and lesser ”political pretensions”) –
while on the other hand it unfortunately takes the focus away from the fact –
that any party on ”the right” always has a far higher rate of unrelented a…holery.

And this comment tries to be a poem – and not a comment!

52

dbk 02.10.19 at 8:50 am

As noted by @16, and referenced @45, the political backdrop is important here. The change to third-term abortion law was the immediate trigger, I suspect, for what came out re: Northam’s med school yearbook. [And of course there was also Virginia’s House of Delegates failing to advance the ERA to the floor in late Jan – Va wasn’t going to be the 38th state to ratify the ERA, it just wasn’t. This has totally fallen off the news radar.]

LGM has been providing a fair bit of coverage of the chaotic situation on the ground. On one post I had noted that this is a good example of “racist past meets ? present.” Everybody’s trapped by Virginia’s own particular past and its not-fully-realized present – and the constitutional successor should all three resign, well, his name was pulled out of a ceramic jar, literally. It’s sort of the Va version of political stasis.

Republicans are trapped too – does anybody imagine that if the House of Delegates Speaker becomes Governor, the Dems won’t find questionable behavior in his past, and/or in that of other prominent Republicans? The entire fabric of state governance could unravel in real time.

The solution proposed by the OP is the most reasonable one, I suppose. But in crises like these, doing the most reasonable thing has very long odds of happening.

Earlier in the week, NBC published a much-circulated photo of State Senator Louise Lucas outside the Capitol – it was a tragic, iconic image of where Virginia finds itself today.

It’s easy for Northerners to tsk-tsk Virginia’s blackface traditions, but it’s not like the North doesn’t have its own relics of structural racism alive and well today. As an Illinoisan who’s following the shambolic mayoral campaign in Chicago, you can take that to the bank.

53

Ian Maitland 02.10.19 at 3:02 pm

The sanctimonious left has really gone overboard. Using fascist means to progressive ends is no less fascist than using fascist means to fascist ends.

54

Orange Watch 02.10.19 at 3:41 pm

Partick@49:

It’s probably worth noting that this isn’t just the attitude WRT racism from the left – it describes attitudes towards criminals and rehabilitation on the right as well. It’s generally a very popular and deep-rooted perspective on wrongdoing in American culture and as such it’s hard to see this going away as many social groups spread all across the political spectrum engage in it, albeit for different reasons.

55

steven t johnson 02.10.19 at 4:09 pm

Barack Obama’s was promoted by senior politicians and the Pritzkers, etc. He had two autobiographies before he was elected, and book deals for politicians are always, always, always suspicious. So, no, it is not a bit obvious Obama was cleaner than any politician in the last century. It’s not even clear that he was cleaner than Jimmy Carter.

Again, there is no legitimate goal whatsoever in proposing rehabilitation for Northam or any other pol caught in decades old self-exposures like this. The whole premise of the campaign is once a racist, always a racist. If Northam’s career wasn’t racist, because, Democrat, then his career is his rehabilitation. Rehabilitation is not satisfying a sadistic pleasure in self-abasement by miscreants. Again, the whole point of digging up decades old crap is that there is to be no forgiveness.

I am disappointed that no one agrees that if Northam is a racist, then his career and his party have been racist. But then I believe that for historical reasons the perpetuation of class society demands the perpetuation of racism as a tool to divide and rule. And Northam’s career, and his party’s program, of promoting capitalism means legislating on behalf of structural racism that keeps the larger majority of African Americans exploited as much as the larger majority of everybody yet still specially oppressed because racism for the poor is alive and well. The Democratic Party can not be redeemed by getting mentally pure politicians (or plausible facsimiles.) That’s like saying the Roman Catholic Church can be redeemed from sex abuse scandals by hiring True Priests. (Romans cited here because it’s a commonplace. The scandal of abuses in Protestant churches doesn’t get much attention because they don’t have as much money to prompt lawsuits, in my opinion.)

The talented tenth like Obama or the six figure publicist for health industry can prosper, even rise to the top. But Obama still worked for the Democratic Party program. When that program required him to support the Libyan rebels who started their campaign against Qaddafi by lynching blacks, it wasn’t a problem for him. In social institutions and movements, personalities are not the mythical consumer sovereign, making the choices at will, collectively decreeing the just outcomes. A lot of things are like the army, where the whole point is that the personal courage of the soldier doesn’t matter much more than their ideas or intelligence. (If you think the military is a band of warriors, I suggest you are already down the road to full-blown militarism.)

Lastly, the retroactiveness of all the current campaigns is politically motivated. I would have thought this transparent, but it seems not. But then, I thought the uncanny resemblance of so much recently to denunciations in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution should have been noticeable too. This point is not lost. The OP actually claimed that “our” mistake with Clinton was not impeaching him for sex. Whereas my thought is still the problems with Clinton have to do with the war on Serbia or his welfare deform or his crime bills or his end of Glass-Steagall. Most of that, not coincidentally, was deeply racist, even though Clinton was too pure-minded/canny to ever do blackface.

56

Omega Centauri 02.10.19 at 4:10 pm

Referencing Patrick @49.
What seems to be missing from the public discussion is the ability of individual humans to overcome their faults. The struggle to overcome one’s tendencies that resulted from a bad upbringing is what makes forgiveness by others natural. “He was brought up as a racist, but he has seen the light, and at great effort has been reprogramming brain to be a better person.” That’s the sort of role model we are most in need of. And that is why we should always offer forgiveness to repentance sinners.

Now, I don’t think Northam has offered evidence of having taken such a journey. But the option of starting from this moment on still needs to be open.

57

Bill Benzon 02.10.19 at 5:10 pm

John McWhorter has an interesting article in The Atlantic that speaks to the underlying offense in two of the Virginia cases: Are All Instances of Blackface Alike? His answer is, no, they are not. And he suggests that Herring’s use of blackface, but not Northam’s (if, indeed, that’s what he did), is not an offense at all.

58

James Wimberley 02.10.19 at 9:02 pm

58% of African American Virginians think Northam should stay. That is not a narrow majority, among the group with the strongest claim of any to sit in judgement. Perhaps AA voters are simply more pragmatic than white liberals. Most white American men are racists more or less. When the candidates are different white men, they vote for the less. In what way would Northam’s resignation benefit their community?

59

nastywoman 02.10.19 at 10:56 pm

@
”The sanctimonious left has really gone overboard.
Using fascist means to progressive ends is no less fascist than using fascist means to fascist ends”.
and
@
”I am disappointed that no one agrees that if Northam is a racist, then his career and his party have been racist”.
and
@
”58% of African American Virginians think Northam should stay”.

Made US think – it will be a very long time before America will be able to divorce ”the political” from the a…holery?

60

bob mcmanus 02.11.19 at 12:11 am

57: McWhorter thinks that Northam must go, but (58 and polls I have seen) if African American Virginians think Northam should stay, so be it. I have not been so interested in the substance of the offense as in the politics of the reaction, and desiring that the politics remain political, not technocratic or objective or dispassionate.

McWhorter also says:”Much of this special kind of vigilance, which leaves many people who thought of themselves as on the barricades a few years ago scratching their head, can be seen as a quest for power.”

Right on. What else is politics but a quest for power? And after the unmitigated disaster that was 2016 when one faction of the Democratic Party demonstrated their power with tragic results and an appalling lack of responsibility, I for one would like to give as much power as possible in the Democratic Party to African Americans, way beyond what might be warranted by their numbers. Unlike 2017, when we got a whole crew of “CIA women” elected to the house, for socioeconomic and historical reasons, I have more hope that AAs elected won’t be greedheads and warmongers, or at least not as much.

Remember, if it was up to the Clintonites and Gillebrand, who endorsed and funded her opponent, Mark Crowley would have Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s seat in Congress.

Those gathering power in a community may have a tendency to demand demonstrations of loyalty, sometimes unwarranted, unfair and/or irrational. They will go too far. I expect it and even celebrate it.

61

Patrick 02.11.19 at 12:33 am

“I have not been so interested in the substance of the offense as in the politics of the reaction, and desiring that the politics remain political, not technocratic or objective or dispassionate.”

“Those gathering power in a community may have a tendency to demand demonstrations of loyalty, sometimes unwarranted, unfair and/or irrational. They will go too far. I expect it and even celebrate it.”

Thank goodness that’s never led to anything bad ever in history.

62

Kurt Schuler 02.11.19 at 3:12 am

John Holbo @47: Thank you for your response. Perhaps I did not make clear enough that in the radio interview, Northam, not speaking about the precise language of the Kathy Tran’s bill but interpreting accurately its spirit, was talking about killing on the operating table a baby carried to full term that was out of the womb. If killing that baby is right, then there is no hope for the rest of us, because we are all more blameworthy of something than the baby is.

J-D @50: If you are married, you evidently didn’t take the same vows I did. If you aren’t married, be sure to inform your intended of your views on adultery before tying the knot.

63

Suzanne 02.11.19 at 4:08 am

@16: “If all have to resign for their prior behaviors that do not appear to have anything to do with who they are now,”

Fairfax has been accused of a serious crime, which the other two, however despicable their conduct back when, have not. Vanessa Tyson, whose statement I find credible, said their encounter happened at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. I do not know enough about the claims of Meredith Watson to judge, but her encounter with Fairfax was in 2000. Not that long ago.

My own feeling is that if a majority of African-Americans of VA are okay with Northam and/or Herring staying, it’s their call. At the least, they will have in office two Democratic pols who will fall over themselves to make it up to them, not necessarily such a bad deal. However, if those voters feel otherwise, that is a different matter.

Fairfax is different – again, these are criminal charges. The dilemma for the Democrats is that in terms of political optics, that difference may be meaningless. I wouldn’t be surprised if all three of them stay in place for the present.

64

John Holbo 02.11.19 at 4:16 am

“was talking about killing on the operating table a baby carried to full term that was out of the womb. If killing that baby is right, then there is no hope for the rest of us, because we are all more blameworthy of something than the baby is.”

The discussion concerned, hypothetically, a non-viable fetus/baby. That is, it concerned what to do if there is no hope it will live. Now, the objection can be made that maybe the doc is wrong and it could have lived. So the worst case is: the doc terminates a fetus/infant, sincerely believing it is non-viable and that this is mercy. If the Dems are the infanticide party on that worst-case basis, then, fair is fair, the Republicans are the senseless-suffering-for-innocent-babies party on that basis. If you are willing to self-label as in favor of senseless suffering for innocent babies, you can call the Dems the infanticide party. But not otherwise. Fair is fair.

65

John Holbo 02.11.19 at 4:22 am

I feel I’ve about talked myself out on all this, so I may not return again, but I feel that some folks are failing to see the logic of the bright line approach. Giving Dems a pass for personal misbehavior, because the Democratic Party is better for women and minorities – which is true! – is a problem, not least because it utterly undermines the moral authority of the party when it calls out bad behavior on the other side. I agree that Northam stepping down, to be replaced by any Republican would be perverse, and worse than Northam staying. But Northam stepping down, to be replaced by any plausible Democrat, would be worth a lot. But clearly he’s going to stay, and the fact that a majority of African American voters seem ok with that is a significant argument in favor of that.

66

Faustusnotes 02.11.19 at 5:52 am

Kurt Schuler is misrepresenting the bill and the contest of Northman’s comments. Is CT to again become a place where random passers by can lie with impunity about simple facts?

67

John Holbo 02.11.19 at 7:26 am

Kurt is indeed misrepresenting the bill, but I have corrected him. And now you have, too, Faustus. I decided in this post to relax my standards a bit because one thing we are debating is the range of ‘decent’ opinions. There isn’t any way to do that while pre-emptively clamping down on ‘indecency’ to hard.

68

J-D 02.11.19 at 8:58 am

Kurt Schuler

J-D @50: If you are married, you evidently didn’t take the same vows I did. If you aren’t married, be sure to inform your intended of your views on adultery before tying the knot.

I don’t have any objection to disclosing the personal facts that (at the time of writing this) I am not married and I do not have an intended, but my personal circumstances are not relevant to this discussion, so I’m not sure why you’re dragging them in.

I presume from your comment that your marriage ceremony involved vows, but are you unaware that the performance of a marriage does not always involve vows, so that in many cases adultery is a violation of no vow? In any case, vows are also not relevant to the point under discussion, because breaking a vow is not a violation of basic moral norms. When Claus von Stauffenberg attempted to blow up Adolf Hitler, he was violating a military oath but no basic moral norm.

Something that is relevant to the point under discussion is the concept of the open marriage. Is that something else you’re unaware of? Open marriages generally involve adultery with no violation of basic moral norms. You made a suggestion (which you may have intended as pointed) about my informing my (non-existent) intended in advance, but, stripping away the personality, the general concept of that kind of advance information is the foundation of many open marriages (although many more are opened only at a later stage).

69

J-D 02.11.19 at 9:02 am

Ian Maitland

The sanctimonious left has really gone overboard. Using fascist means to progressive ends is no less fascist than using fascist means to fascist ends.

The left, sanctimonious or otherwise, is not using fascist means; you’re just making that up, possibly because you couldn’t resist the occasion to abuse your political enemies.

70

Sebastian H 02.11.19 at 9:24 am

“but I feel that some folks are failing to see the logic of the bright line approach. Giving Dems a pass for personal misbehavior, because the Democratic Party is better for women and minorities – which is true! – is a problem, not least because it utterly undermines the moral authority of the party when it calls out bad behavior on the other side.”

I agree, but you’re over generalizing. The damning people “for bad behavior” without making distinctions about the severity of the behavior is the kind of purity politics that should be avoided. What Herring did almost certainly shouldn’t require resignation. A costume trying to honor someone you like isn’t “the minstrelsy” tradition that makes blackface so gross. And even for Northram, if black people in a majority want to say that minstrelsy from another era is forgiveable, so be it. Yes, they can’t now attack it very easily in a Republican, but if that is literally all they have, it’s a weak attack anyway.

And it was always a weak attack, which is why the hyper wokeness about minor 30 year old sins is fine to abandon.

The real problem about Northram is his “I think I’m not the guy in the KKK hood” which is WAY worse than just “blackface” in my book. If we want to say that anyone stupid enough to wear a KKK hood needs to face repercussions even 30 years later i’m behind that.

But generalizing that all the way up to “pass for personal behavior” doesn’t help the discussion at all. We need to be willing to damn serious personal behavior and let monitor transgressions go. Part of that is understanding that what counts as major and minor changes over time, and that for some of the mid level ones giving a pass for 30 years ago isn’t the same as giving a pass for now. (This is all going to come up again with the trans issue. There are a vast number of feminists who are on record as saying things like “all gender is socially constructed” and “there are no differences between men and women” who are going to sound anti-trans if looked at through the wrong lens.

71

Trader Joe 02.11.19 at 12:58 pm

I’ve been a Virginian for over 30 years and the first thing that observers should note about Virginia is that a Virginia Democrat would be labeled a moderate republican most of the world over. This has changed a little over the last 10-12 years as Northern Virginia has populated itself with more traditional democrats, but the sort that Mr. Northam represents is primarily the old kind…which brings us to:

The second thing an observer should note is that Virginia Democrats is the have absolute ZERO claim to the moral high ground. Few outside of the Commonwealth would remember what VA Dems did in the 50s through the 1970s to actively prevent school desgregation, disenfranchise and destroy predominately black communities and otherwise prevent “them” from gaining voting power (I link the wikilink here, but there are countless books on this for those curious – fair warning, it was UGLY. There is a reason VA is a charter member of the bad-boys club in the Voting rights Act

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massive_resistance

All of this was propagated by a Democratic machine that held all three branches of government for nearly that entire time. This is the sort of Democratic party that a young Ralph Northam would have been part of and which still persists in certain halls of power (the clubs which don’t allow women and only recently allowed blacks).

I’d simply close with asking Mr. Holbo – if the situation had been reversed and it was three Republicans that did the exact same things as these three did – would you be just as happy to leave them in power? I doubt it.

All three must go and let the Reps have it. Voters will decide again in 2 years.

72

Joshua W. Burton 02.11.19 at 1:23 pm

The obvious worked example would be former Vice President Biden, whose 1988 presidential run was derailed by a plagiarized campaign speech and an uncovered history of law school plagiarism. It’s hard to believe this narrative is forgotten, but it seems to be forgiven.

The contrary delimiting case is also interesting: have there been any prominent examples of a discredited public figure who was actively pursued beyond resignation and withdrawal from public life? Nixon got his pardon, of course, and bore the mark of Cain in silence for less than three years before the Frost interviews. The best example I can think of is Linda Chavez, who had a nanny problem (in 2001, by which time public figures were reasonably forewarned) and who was threatened, I’m not sure how seriously, with prosecution after withdrawing from consideration as Secretary of Labor. Of course the 2000 election was still fresh, so there was a lot of righteous anger looking for an appropriate target.

73

VA Voter 02.11.19 at 2:37 pm

So, uh, in recent news, Northam just referred to enslaved black people as “indentured servants.” https://wtvr.com/2019/02/10/gov-ralph-northam-calls-slaves-indentured-servants-in-gayle-king-interview/

Yeah, that clears up any lingering doubts I had about whether he should resign. Herring is the best option here.

Re: Cranky Observer @28 – I did say I was dreaming, not being realistic! But there are a few VA Dems in the House and local offices (mayor, city council, etc) who fit that description. On a national level, Stacy Abrams and AOC don’t seem to have any skeletons in her closet. Of course, the nature of the beast is that you, the voter, never know about the scandal until it hits…

74

steven t johnson 02.11.19 at 3:37 pm

Orange Watch@54 “It’s probably worth noting that this isn’t just the attitude WRT racism from the left – it describes attitudes towards criminals and rehabilitation on the right as well. It’s generally a very popular and deep-rooted perspective on wrongdoing in American culture and as such it’s hard to see this going away as many social groups spread all across the political spectrum engage in it, albeit for different reasons.”

I disagree. The rejection of rehabilitation, the insistence on maximum punishments, the requirement for self-degradation to affirm the status quo, are all reactionary politics. These methods can’t be used by the left effectively. It’s always possible for the right to use them too. Then at best (!) you get a Cultural Revolution debacle where it’s a guessing game as to who is really left. Everybody desperate to off Northam is vociferously supporting the compulsory pregnancy crowd (aka “prolife.”)

And although it is true that no one is really consistent, the insistence that the soul must be pure is deeply reactionary. This is the motive in all cases like this. The would be left, the self-flattering left all share the reactionary drive to look into the souls of others, and pass judgment. It is the same bliss the beatfied share as they behold the damned in hell.

There is nothing but reactionary scapegoating to punish Northam for being a racist then but excusing his racist party and politics and career till now. If his party and his politics and career weren’t racist, then he was rehabilitated. There is no middle ground. Any alleged bright lines are purely illusory, emperor’s new clothes at worst.

75

LFC 02.11.19 at 3:55 pm

@Trader Joe
You need to re-read the OP, because Holbo does not want to “leave them in power.”

76

Orange Watch 02.11.19 at 4:06 pm

bob mcmanus@60:

And after the unmitigated disaster that was 2016 when one faction of the Democratic Party demonstrated their power with tragic results and an appalling lack of responsibility, I for one would like to give as much power as possible in the Democratic Party to African Americans, way beyond what might be warranted by their numbers.

This is a deeply troubling assertion. Barack Obama was/is a member of the clique you complain of. Why should we use race as a proxy for acceptable policy positions rather than, say, actual policy positions? Your proposal seems born of pure essentialist identitarianism. Why should leftists seek to empower a demographic – by virtue of their demographic identity – that skews more to the center and right socially rather than seeking to empower individuals who skew socially and fiscally to the left? “Inverting hierarchies” has always been a noxious end goal compared to flattening them.

77

Wild Cat 02.11.19 at 4:18 pm

@ 71 Traitor Joe:

Who gives a flying coitus what Virginia Democrats did from 1950–1970?

It’s 2019.

78

TM 02.11.19 at 4:59 pm

@Kurt, fyi marriage vows in your sense are not so common outside the US. In my case, the ceremony (as prescribed by law in my jurisdiction) consisted in the registrar explaining to us the legal definition of marriage and the rights and obligations we were about to take on. In case you are interested, there is a handy fact sheet in 15 languages you can consult (https://www.bj.admin.ch/content/dam/data/bj/gesellschaft/zivilstand/merkblaetter/ehe/mb-ehepflichten-d.pdf). It doesn’t mention adultery although there is a “commitment to loyalty and assistance: Both spouses act for the good of the marital union and respect each other’s personality. No spouse acts against the other’s will.” Obviously this is a matter of interpretation and not something that can be legally enforced. It’s a good thing that modern secular society has given up on moralizing about people’s private relationships, sexual and otherwise. Even the term “adultery” is hardly used in secular societies any more, outside the US of course.

J-D 68: Bringing Stauffenberg into this discussion is quite self-defeating since it proves too much – namely that even an act that normally would be considered heinous can under exceptional circumstances be morally justifiable. I think your argument ought to be that private sexual behavior, as long as it’s consensual, is irrelevant for judging a person’s fitness for office.

79

TM 02.11.19 at 5:14 pm

65: “Giving Dems a pass for personal misbehavior, because the Democratic Party is better for women and minorities – which is true! – is a problem, not least because it utterly undermines the moral authority of the party when it calls out bad behavior on the other side.”

This is zero tolerance moralizing passing for political consistency. I think it’s wrong both politically AND morally and I think whoever came up with that needs to examine their moral principles. Especially in the case when the “misbehavior” in question – even if it was misbehavior, which in my view hasn’t been demonstrated – happened in the person’s youth. Again, this attitude is itself immoral and unjust and arguably a violation of human dignity.

80

Trader Joe 02.11.19 at 6:35 pm

@75 LFC
Maybe you should revisit your own reading skills. He wants the Republican Senate to vote a Democrat into the AG chair so he can either resign his post to a fellow Democrat or “in clean conscious” (his words, not mine) remain in office.

Since there is fully a 0% chance that any republican party anywhere in any state would do such a deal (especially not in VA)…he is in effect saying, leave them in power.

Again if the situation was reversed would you want to see a Democrat senate accept such a deal to leave some different Republican in power? Doubtful.

@77 We care about 1950-1970 because that attitude hasn’t gone away, its just dressed itself up better – at least until the photos come out, which they did in this case.

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TM 02.11.19 at 7:24 pm

Re 78: Sorry, I forgot to mention the rest of the ceremony I started describing: after explaining the legal consequences of marriage to us, the registrar asked whether we now agreed to get married. We said yes. No vows required.

82

hix 02.11.19 at 7:41 pm

Step down and never be “forgiven” where forgiven means be allowed back into a position of lots of power over other people is quite an ok standard for me when the person did something horrible. But id also like to have a legal standard before condeming someone that way, that is innocent until proofen guilty, not a my personal probabilty o meter thinks its 80% probable he did it, now away with you standard. And i cant folow at all how such non issues like lying about an affair or having one could even be considered as being in the horrible thing category by nominal left wing people.

83

J-D 02.11.19 at 8:40 pm

Kurt Schuler

I am a Virginia Republican, and I think I speak for many of my kind when I say that we would be content to let Northam, Fairfax, and Herring remain in office if Democrats would henceforth forever refrain from saying that their party – the party of slavery long ago; the party of Jim Crow in my childhood; and now the party of infanticide, possible sexual assault, blackface, and anti-Semitism – has any claim to moral superiority.

My position is this: I would be happy to concede my political opponents their claim to moral superiority if the price was that they conceded all offices of power, but I would not be happy to see my political opponents holding offices of power even if the price was that they conceded all claims to moral superiority. Is your position really the converse? Would that provide the basis of a deal, as follows: a general agreement that claims to moral superiority remain the sole perquisite of Republicans, while offices of power remain the sole perquisite of Democrats?

84

Margaret Atherton 02.12.19 at 4:25 pm

According to the NYTimes:
1. Northam graduated from a minority majority public high school rather than a set academy as was common in VA for people of his race and class.
2. He was one of only two white basketball players.
3. Black high school friends speak warmly of their friendship.
4. They remember he was called “coonman” but can’t remember why.
5. As a pediatrician, he was active and helpful in African American communities
6. A significant number of African American voters in Va want him to remain as governor.
7. Maybe it isn’t even him in the photo. Both men are unrecognizable.

There is an awful lot of guilt by accusation going around. It may make the accusers feel good. Undermining due process shouldn’t make anybody feel good.

85

John Holbo 02.13.19 at 3:25 am

Hi, Margaret. First, let me say that I admire your work. “Women Philosophers In The Early Modern Period” was helpful to me when I was making a syllabus a few years ago. So: thanks for that. (Unless you are a different Margaret Atherton, in which case: I don’t hold it against you that you never wrote that book.)

I agree that the whole thing is unpleasantly severe and I don’t like that. But I don’t agree that it’s guilt by accusation or a lack of due process. In a sense the problem is just the lack of due process in a more basic sense. There isn’t a process, so it’s hard to say what anyone is due. I do think we should be clear in our heads that the following rule is a good one: if, for the good of the party, some leader should step down, that leader should step down. Now, that gets us back to the unpleasant severity. We don’t want circular firing squads or Maoist self-criticism sessions every 5 minutes. We are going through an awkward spot, between norms. Unfortunately, a short – rip the band-aid off – painful patch may be the least worst way forward. But, yes, it’s ugly.

86

Margaret Atherton 02.13.19 at 3:34 am

I am that Margaret Atherton so thanks. I’m glad you found the book useful.

I guess I find “for the good of the party” a little too vague and open ended, a little too much in the eye of the beholder to warrant getting rid of something as important as due process. And I do find that accusations, in this case of a single act a little to easy a way of getting rid of someone, with no questions asked. This is a process that needs discouraging .

87

John Holbo 02.13.19 at 3:55 am

“a little too much in the eye of the beholder to warrant getting rid of something as important as due process.”

This is why I think it would have been better to package Northam stepping down as fully redemptive act, restoring his reputation after the shame of the revelation. If you could say: ‘let’s be honest, this is kind of crazy. It was years ago. On the other hand, you did kind of betray the trust of the voters by being that guy with a blackface/kkk photo in your closet. Even so, it would be crazy to assume you are still that guy. But your presence makes it impossible for us to do what we have to. We try to hold the Republicans accountable for racism, they haul our your yearbook. It hurts us. If you would step down, it would be a huge help. You would be the hero for cleaning this mess. You don’t have to be the guy who is tarred a racist forever for some dumb 1985 yearbook. Again, the situation is crazy, and we’re sorry to have to ask it. But we have to ask it.’

Obviously that’s not going to happen, certainly not now. I do sincerely believe that, damaging and bad as all this looks – and overly-severe as the calls for resignation seem – in the long run it’s a good idea to draw a bright line. Then again, maybe I’m wrong. I dunno.

88

Alan White 02.13.19 at 4:25 am

Margaret–thanks for that info. It does reinforce the old adage that context is everything.

89

politicalfootball 02.13.19 at 2:50 pm

Even so, it would be crazy to assume you are still that guy. But your presence makes it impossible for us to do what we have to. We try to hold the Republicans accountable for racism, they haul our your yearbook. It hurts us.

The problem is, your proposal plays into the Republican narrative, too. If we’re going to posit that Northam shouldn’t resign on merits (which I won’t do: see 39), then seeking his resignation is wrong.

In a reasonable world, you are suggesting, Northam’s actions aren’t intrinsically disqualifying for someone in his office — “it would be crazy to assume [he’s] still that guy.” But because people aren’t good at making moral distinctions, he must go or Democrats forfeit the moral high ground.

If we accept the Holbo Proposition, Republicans will correctly say that Democrats can’t make reasonable distinctions between different kinds of wrongdoing because they are at the mercy of runaway political correctness and want to impose their PC dogma on decent, god-fearing white Republicans.

And the Republicans will be right. Maintaining the ability to hold Republicans to similar standards is an explicit part of the Holbo Doctrine.

90

Suzanne 02.13.19 at 6:19 pm

I’m not sure how “due process” has been undermined in Northam’s case. Northam initially admitted that the photograph was of himself. Any confusion on that score is due to him. He was a student in medical college, not a middle or high schooler, so “young-and-foolish” is an excuse of limited validity here.

The only relevant item in your list, it seems to me, is #6.

The term “due process” has gotten tossed around a lot in the wake of #MeToo, usually by people claiming it hasn’t been observed in one case or another. It’s currently being deployed by some Virginia politicians to justify keeping Justin Fairfax in office, which would raise the bar very high in sexual assault allegations against politicians – presumably, unless one of his accusers actually brings criminal charges against Fairfax and he is found guilty, he gets to stay in place.

However, in most – not all – of the cases we have seen, there has been a process – claims of misconduct are made, investigated, found to be credible, and the offender ends by admitting, tacitly or straightforwardly, that the claims are valid.

91

Colin R 02.13.19 at 6:22 pm

I would like for there to be a path to redemption and forgiveness for past mistakes, but I feel like this is putting the cart before the horse a bit. I feel like before you can even get to forgiveness, there has to be actual contrition. Apology is an important gesture, but the problem I think people have with Northam or Franken is that they don’t even understand what they did, or really seem able to acknowledge that what they did, was wrong.

The core issue to me doesn’t even seem to be about forgiveness but about understanding, and much of it is generational. Older generations of Democrats don’t even understand why people are getting angry at them, and they resent being asked to apologize for things that they don’t understand. I feel like in this case, if people aren’t willing to do that extra work of understanding, then what obligation can anyone have to forgive them?

I liked Al Franken, and he was a good Senator. But he has not made publicly clear that he understands what he did was wrong; his surrogates still seem to press that he was unfairly maligned. At the end of the day, I don’t feel like anyone owes Al Franken anything here. If he wants to be forgiven he has to do the work of understanding. He’s not irreplaceable. The Virginia situation does require some political calculus, but I still feel that a lack of understanding is going to cause future problems for Northam.

92

rcriii 02.13.19 at 7:00 pm

I don’t see anyone challenging the statement “unfairly tarred for life”, except perhaps Joshua Burton at 72, with the example of Joe Biden’s plagiarism.

Why is it so obvious that Northam will be considered a racist for life in any way that matters? The “tarred for life” is a red herring dropped by those who are searching for reasons to oppose accountability.

Al Franken, meanwhile, could do exactly as you say. I imagine (hope) he would not win unless he has convincingly demonstrated that he is a changed man.

93

anon 02.13.19 at 7:59 pm

None of those guys should resign. Franken should not have resigned.

Voters aren’t children. We understand that people, even adults, do stupid things.

Policy is much more important than these superficial ‘errors’ in judgement. We need politicians who will do the right things while in office.

Not have to apologize for silly things they did decades ago.

94

LizardBreath 02.13.19 at 8:42 pm

While I can see the argument about it being a long time ago and he’s done other good things and so on, I can’t quite see why it matters if he’s in the picture. Is there any question about whether he picked out the picture and gave it to the yearbook staff to publish? It’s on his page in the yearbook, I think he’s responsible for choosing it.

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Margaret Atherton 02.13.19 at 10:38 pm

Colin R 91 why do you say that Franken has not made public ally clear that he understands what he did was wrong? About the picture he has made crystal clear that he found it horrifying and regretted it. About the groping charges, he just says he remembers things differently which implies that he does think that groping is unattractive and doesn’t think he did it. The Northam issue is different. It is t that he was racist as a youth and now must atone. Instead there is ample reason to think he was less racist than many. The picture is an outlier and indeed hard to understand. I haven’t heard anything about how that yearbook was put together that would make it obvious that he and not an editor chose the picture. Then again I never knew medical schools have yearbooks.

96

John Holbo 02.13.19 at 10:55 pm

“In a reasonable world, you are suggesting, Northam’s actions aren’t intrinsically disqualifying for someone in his office — “it would be crazy to assume [he’s] still that guy.” But because people aren’t good at making moral distinctions, he must go or Democrats forfeit the moral high ground.”

It isn’t actually unreasonable to regard any features of the office-holder that make him an ineffective office-holder as disqualitying. Suppose he were embroiled in some terrible scandal or controversy, and Dems thought it might all be bullshit. They could still ask him to step down for the sake of appearances. I admit it’s not a perfect analogy, and there is a real problem with saying ‘if some people think you have done something wrong, wrongly, you have to step down to appease them.’ It’s a problematic place to be, no doubt. But cutting losses, tactically, is a thing parties do. It’s not a violation of procedural justice.

97

Alan White 02.14.19 at 12:39 am

Just to be clear: Margaret’s info was crucial (to me) to evaluating Northam more charitably. Such background is absolutely necessary to gaining balanced perspective.

Still, overall I have to come down on the side of his resignation. Something went on years ago to make this association with racism on that yearbook page–and 1984 ain’t 1964. Anyone old enough for med school in 84 should know that such behavior even in so-called “fun” was wrong, wrong, wrong. And what makes me suspicious about his collusion (in one way or another) with all this are his own statements–contradictory, inflammatory (he seemed to think his MJ impersonation would help his cause–which Margaret’s comments helped to see is some way–but jeez, as a politician he should have self-censured those inclinations), and frankly pretty clueless. For me this put him on a par with Trump’s narrow grasp of media in just another but perhaps more incompetent way. As he spoke in his press conference, not only did his spouse seem to get things more clearly than he, but it made me wish for him doing something like George Wallace did–resign and urge his wife to run in the next election (Wallace did not resign, I know). And given his wildly off-the-rails mishandling of late-term abortion despite being a doctor (!!!) , he doesn’t promise to advance progressive causes anyway.

But what galls me is that while he is constantly under fire from both sides, p***y-grabbing Agent Orange sits in one of the most powerful offices on earth, with nearly all Rethugs and too many Dems silent about this atrocity of history. That nearly makes me physically sick every day.

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steven t johnson 02.14.19 at 1:57 am

Political considerations, after Northam was attacked because of his abortion stance, are exactly why Northam should not be hounded by members of his own party. Sacrificing people for a little heat? Get out of the kitchen, you’re not a serious politician.

The case against Northam, Fairfax and Herring at this point is nothing but puritanical moralism, of the kind that gives moralizing a bad name. It is the opposite of practical politics.

99

Colin R 02.14.19 at 2:07 am

I don’t believe he made it publicly clear that Franken understands that what he did was wrong largely because Kirsten Gillibrand still gets constant criticism from Democratic circles for Al Franken’s choices. He could defend her publicly; he hasn’t. And I’m pretty familiar with Franken’s output as a writer; while I don’t think his history of crude jokes is awful, I do know that he is very proud of his history of a comedy writer. He wrote a book not that long before he stepped down about his run for Senate in 2008–and he he took some pains to defend the jokes he was raked over the coals for (in 2008). It makes me doubt that he really thinks he did anything wrong in that photo.

I don’t think that stuff makes Al Franken uniquely awful or anything. But I do think they are indicative that he hasn’t really put a whole lot of thought into what he did wrong, and I suspect he tends to think he was more wronged than he was wrong. Likewise I think that Northam probably just doesn’t really grasp that there was anything wrong with what he did–like you say he doesn’t think he has a hateful heart. But that’s not really relevant; racism is about actions and systems, not what’s in peoples’ hearts.

From a purely political calculus, pushing Franken to step down was absolutely the right thing to do. The President of the United States is definitely a racist; there are very credible reasons to believe that he and Brett Kavanaugh are sex predators. It’s important for Democrats that they be able to put themselves on strong footing to dismiss ‘both sides’ stuff, partly for outward appearances but more importantly for internal cohesion. If guys like Franken and Northam can’t get on that page, they are liabilities. I don’t think it’s impossible for them to understand where they went wrong and atone or whatever, but that seems on them.

The political calculus for Virginia is trickier than Franken’s Senate seat of course. The proposal about cutting a deal with Republicans is worth trying I guess; it’s safe to assume they would operate in bad faith.

100

Brian of Nazareth 02.14.19 at 2:41 am

I’ll accept Northam should stand down over his youthful misdemeanor provided the Southern Poverty Law Centre is closed down for having vilified Maajid Nawaz as an anti-Muslim extremist. The latter decision, by the way, was made by grown ups who were acting recklessly or maliciously.

Of course, I would much prefer that people and institutions be subject to moderate and proportional punishment and that we accept genuine apologies.

I wonder how many good folk are put off running for public office by the relentless witch-hunts?

101

Trader Joe 02.14.19 at 12:29 pm

As the process is unfolding it appears increasingly unlikely that none of the three will resign (particularly Northam). Voters at large seem reasonably split on this and anecdotally (as a resident) that sort of squares with what one hears around the water cooler.

To me the implication of Northam staying is that henceforth “stuff in yearbooks” no matter what it is, can no longer be deemed grounds for dismissal/disqualification whether that’s a potential Supreme Court justice or chief dog catcher. Should anyone find such stuff Northam will be held up as the example and there will really be no rebuttal. Considering that its probable that more Republicans will have such pictures in their past than Democrats – that’s a loss as Mr. Holbo has indirectly suggested.

Second is the precedent set by Fairfax not resigning. Screaming “Due Process” seems to be the standard when you support the alleged-rapist in question and MeToo is the refrain when you don’t. If waiting for “all facts to come to light” is the standard (and I’m not saying its wrong) the implication is going to be that a lot of these guys are going to avoid consequences because such cases are almost always of the ‘he said, she said’ variety and there are few hard facts for anyone to hang their hat on. Bill Cosby evaded this stuff for decades and his conduct was far more egregious than alleged against Fairfax, Cavanaugh or many others.

Last interesting sidebar – Herring and Fairfax were the presumed candidates for Governor in VAs next election in 2021. Local pundits had begun to speculate as to whether they would primary against one another or if for the sake of unity one or the other would stand aside – now that discussion is probably moot, unless one of them runs anyway, in which case we’ll get treated to a full rehash of all the details all over again which most surely will provide ammo for whomever the Republican candidate will be – in a very purple state, this could very well make a difference with consequences for Medicare extension and multiple environmental issues among other upshots.

102

politicalfootball 02.14.19 at 2:25 pm

But cutting losses, tactically, is a thing parties do. It’s not a violation of procedural justice.

Hmm. I think I agree with the general sentiment, but I’d say it this way: Procedural justice isn’t relevant here.

Certainly I’m sympathetic with the general goal you propose — setting a standard and creating a contrast between political parties. And I think that tactical considerations should take precedence over due process for Ralph Northam. I do, however, think that giving Northam a fair shake has some tactical relevance.

Suppose he were embroiled in some terrible scandal or controversy, and Dems thought it might all be bullshit. They could still ask him to step down for the sake of appearances.

They could. This sort of argument is made all the time, and I disagree with it pretty regularly. This approach puts the power in the hands of people who generate bogus scandals, and as a tactical matter this serves Democrats poorly.

With your method, we can find that Hillary’s e-mails or Benghazi or her femaleness or whatever should have disqualified her from seeking the Democratic nomination. Likewise Bernie’s insistence on calling himself a socialist and his reluctance to even be a member of the Democratic Party. Or Obama’s Kenyan Muslimness.

The Democrats, wherever possible,* need to be the party of reason and factuality because somebody needs to stand up for that stuff, and the Republicans don’t want the job.

*I acknowledge that it is not always possible.

103

Lobsterman 02.14.19 at 6:11 pm

Wait, the AG should step down because they did something stupid freshman year in undergrad?

Um. I have information about undergrads.

104

Margaret Atherton 02.14.19 at 9:48 pm

Trader Joe at 101: “Me too” is a very useful slogan and reminder of the prevalence of sexual assaults on women. BUT “due process” is a Fifth Amendment guarantee, it is not a slogan. I am very concerned about the suggestions on this thread that due process is something that can be ignored if it is convenient, for any reason, political or otherwise. Getting rid of a problem, sweeping it away is becoming a way of dealing with problems while ignoring something that is central to our legal justice system.

105

LizardBreath 02.15.19 at 3:54 pm

BUT “due process” is a Fifth Amendment guarantee, it is not a slogan.

Due process before one is deprived of life, liberty or property by the government is a constitutional guarantee. Arguments about what process is due before people publicly say that they think you should resign and that they don’t approve of your continued tenure in elected office are slogan-based. Using Franken as an example — he resigned after accusations of bad behavior became public. What ‘due process’, concretely, could he possibly be said to have been deprived of? If he hadn’t chosen to resign, it’s very implausible that he could have been forced out of the Senate.

106

Orange Watch 02.15.19 at 4:55 pm

Margaret Atherton@104:

Guarantee of due process is – and always has been – sharply limited. Your invocation of it here mirrors invocation on Kavanaugh’s behalf, and are for better or worse equally irrelevant as those were. The 5th guarantees it in cases of deprivation of life, liberty, or property, and imposes certain safeguards in criminal cases. But for civil matters? Administrative matters? Labor and employment matters? Electability and public opinion? The 5th is pointedly silent, and with regards to these, it’s not so much that the horse has already left the barn; it was never in the barn to begin with. The 5th assures us that Lt. Gov. Fairfax is protected from criminal sanction absent due process – but beyond that, it has nothing to say of the three men’s situations, nor does anything else in American law grant due process that is now being denied.

107

Suzanne 02.15.19 at 6:01 pm

@ 99: I agree that the political calculus made it necessary for Franken to go and go quickly, particularly given that the Roy Moore complications in the Alabama Senate race were ongoing and as long as Franken was there, he would be used by Republicans to counter criticisms of Moore, unfairly or no. That said, Franken asked for the Senate version of “due process” and didn’t get it. He’s only human and it might be a bit much to ask him to defend Gillibrand’s decision to lead the charge in kicking him out of his job.

@104: If Fairfax is charged with a crime, absolutely he should receive “due process” in the legal sense. However, sexual assault claims are by their nature very difficult to prosecute, as Trader Joe has already explained well. The judicial standard of due process cannot and should not be the standard by which we decide if a politician remains in office. That’s one reason why the process of impeachment is there in the first place.

(I’m also a bit troubled by your description of #MeToo as a “slogan” and “reminder.” I think by now it has earned the status of a movement, a movement addressed at righting wrongs that women have had to live with for too long, regardless of opinions about its alleged excesses.)

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