Virginia’s Northam, Fairfax refuse to resign
Northam: Not willing to leave
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam insisted this week he was “not going anywhere” despite calls for his resignation over a blackface scandal, while Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax also insisted he would not resign as he denied a second allegation of sexual assault. The crisis intensified after a second woman, Meredith Watson, came forward to accuse Fairfax, charging that he raped her in 2000 while they were Duke University undergraduates. Watson broke her silence two days after Vanessa Tyson, a professor at California’s Scripps College, vividly described how Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex in a hotel room in 2004. Fairfax, a former U.S. attorney, described both incidents as “consensual” and called for the FBI to investigate. He labeled the allegations a “coordinated smear.”
Northam and State Attorney General Mark R. Herring—who also wore blackface during the 1980s—largely remained out of sight, as a statewide poll found residents split 47 to 47 percent on whether the governor should resign. Northam’s support, however, rose to 58 percent among Virginia’s black residents. Meanwhile, efforts to recalibrate his agenda around race came into focus, including his going on a statewide “listening tour,” channeling more money to Virginia’s five historically black colleges, and tearing down its Confederate statues. Northam said he “didn’t realize the powerful implications” of being born into white privilege.
What the columnists said
Virginia Democrats are “reaping the bitter fruit of zero tolerance,” said Jeff Schapiro in The Richmond Times-Dispatch. They now face intense pressure to sacrifice Northam—and even Fairfax—to the “lava-belching volcanoes of race and gender.” If they don’t, they risk blunting “their most powerful weapon—hostility in a blue-trending state for a president viewed as a bigoted misogynist.” Unfortunately, this cold calculus of refusing to forgive any transgression increasingly looks like a suicide pact.
Northam’s determination to keep his job is “probably for the best,” said Bret Stephens in The New York Times. Resigning would only reinforce a flawed dynamic whereby people are judged “only by their most shameful moments.” Should Jesse Jackson’s life be boiled down to the use of a single anti-Semitic slur, “Hymietown”? How about Joe Biden, who once referred to Barack Obama as “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean”? In the 35 years since Northam’s alleged antics he’s “lived an upstanding life without a hint of racial bias.” If that doesn’t count, then America is headed to a “dark place.”
This episode has revealed the hypocrisy of white people in political leadership, said William Barber II in The Washington Post. Some of the same Republicans who call for Northam’s resignation “continue themselves to vote for the policies of white supremacy.” While Virginia’s politicians contort themselves over Northam’s and Herring’s blackface scandals, a utility company is planning a pipeline through a historically black Richmond neighborhood founded by emancipated slaves. Supporting such “policies that have a disparate impact on communities of color” today is just as racist as what Northam did 35 years ago. ■