And Jesus said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone …”
I don’t usually quote from the New Testament, but it seemed appropriate to cite the text from John as it relates to the circus-of-a-state we are witnessing in Virginia as the governor and his two potential immediate successors—the lieutenant governor and the state attorney general—are caught up in sexual and racial improprieties, both the alleged and real kind.
As Christine Greer, associate professor of political science at Fordham University, said on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show Wednesday, “Well, it seems everyone in Virginia is wanting when it comes to being without sin.”
While Republicans basically abandoned any ethical principles with their selection of Donald Trump as their standard bearer, Democrats have an-eat-their young attitude of moral purity.
Their unforgiving puritanical stance is combined with rush to judgment alacrity.
Here’s where dedication to purity becomes problematic. We’re not dealing with the entertainment industry, a la Harvey Weinstein or Bill Cosby, where individuals, scores of individuals, had their lives traumatized. No. In the mess of a commonwealth called Virginia, the lives of millions are at stake.
If Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, resigns, first in line to succeed him is Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, also a Democrat. If Fairfax resigns, he is succeeded by Atty. Gen.s Mark Herring, also a Democrat. If Herring resigns, he is succeeded by the Speaker of the House of Delegates, Marvin Kirkland Cox, a conservative Republican.
Now, before you finish howling gleefully or despondently, add this peculiarity to how Cox finds himself poised to become governor if all the Democratic dominoes tumble: Back in 2017, the race for control of the 100-seat House of Delegates was settled not by voters but rather by the drawing of lots.
Democrat Shelly Simonds and Republican incumbent David Yancey wound up with the same number of ballots in Virginia’s 94th District. The winner was chosen by a random drawing of one of their names out of a bowl. Yancey was chosen, giving Republicans a 51-49 majority of delegates. Cox was elected speaker.
What would it mean in Virginia? Northam advocated for expanding Medicaid, stricter gun regulations and protecting abortion rights. Cox would not. Keep in mind Northam’s victory was decisive, 53.9% vs. 45.0% for Republican Ed Gillespie, in a race widely seen as a referendum on Trump and his policies.
In no way am I condoning Northam or Herring for wearing blackface almost 40 years ago. Nor am I siding with Fairfax in his defense of alleged sexual misconduct 15 yers ago.
I am suggesting that context and, sometimes, pragmatic politics need to be considered.
Northam was not even 25 when he appeared in blackface in 1984. Herring was 19 in 1980. Though young, both men should have known better, but in the context of growing up in Virginia, where just a little more than a decade earlier interracial marriages were illegal, appearing in blackface was a common act. And, in 1976, Gene Wilder appeared in blackface in the film Silver Streak with Richard Pryor.
More relevant to the dialogue about Northam and Herring is their behavior since their blackface days. By all accounts known to me, they have been free of racist acts.
The case of Fairfax is more troubling. Justin Fairfax was 25 when he allegedly forced a woman to perform oral sex on him. It is entangled in the #MeToo moment. To read Vanessa Tyson’s statement about her prior disclosure to friends of the alleged assault is starkly familiar to testimonies provided by victims of known predators (https://www.mediaite.com/online/breaking-lt-gov-fairfaxs-accuser-releases-harrowing-statement-detailing-alleged-sexual-assault/).
I don’t want to see Virginia regress into a red state. I also don’t want to see Democrats embrace a holier-than-thou stance toward potential presidential candidates if their so-called transgressions occurred decades ago (as is the case with Joe Biden’s Clarence Thomas confirmation hearing flub or Kirsten Gillibrand’s past support of unrestricted gun rights).
Republicans would like nothing more than to cast Democrats as hypocrites in the morals arena. Yeah, right. As if the public, at least the thinking public, would not see them as pots calling the tea kettle black.
Yes, Virginia, if all three Democrats resign, Republicans will have a right to say there is a Santa Claus, so let’s not give the GOP a present, and a possible path to Trump’s reelection.