Governor Ralph Northam: A True Southern Democrat, Exposes His True Self

by | Feb 2, 2019 |

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When a long buried photograph of Democrat Governor of Virginia Ralph Northam from his 1984 medical school yearbook appeared on February 1, it proved a new reality of the 21st century: No matter how much you want to leave your history of embarrassing misdeeds buried behind you, modern technology has a way of uncovering them and exposing your real self to the public. It’s a new world.

The photograph was revealing. It showed two young men – one in blackface and the other in the white robe of the KuKluxKlan. Northam’s constituency was enraged. In the last year of the second decade of the 21st century, there is little tolerance for rabid racism. Historical context doesn’t really matter any more. When men like our nation’s founders – George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, for example – are castigated and raucous voices call for their memories to be expunged from our history books because they owned slaves – it demonstrates how little we understand the importance of historical context and how deeply group hate distorts our national perspective.

When the Northam photograph suddenly appeared in the press on February 1, the governor did not say which figure he was, but acknowledged that he was indeed in the photo. In a prepared statement, he said, “I am deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now. But I accept responsibility for my past actions and I am ready to do the hard work of regaining your trust.” 

Despite his apology, however, a growing number of legislators began calling for his resignation. On the evening of February 1, Democrats in Virginia’s state legislature held an emergency conference call to discuss the sudden crisis and decided that they could no longer support their governor. Legislators at both the state and federal levels were distancing themselves from the Governor and calling for his resignation. They were joined by the Congressional Black Caucus and Virginia Legislative Black Caucus. One person on the late night call leaked the news that the Governor would likely resign in the morning, according to The Hill.

But it didn’t happen. In fact, on Saturday morning quite the opposite occurred. Governor Northam doubled down on his determination to hold on to his office. Instead of apologizing, he changed his story. He told the press that he was NOT in the yearbook photograph, although it had appeared next to his name. He suggested that the photo may have been wrongly put on his page. 

Southern Discomfort: The Hidden Bigotry That Never Left

In order to understand how egregious that photograph is, it is helpful to understand the context. The photo was not a reflection of the old south, where segregation and racial prejudice was deeply imbedded, and such a staged photograph would have been considered quite acceptable and even funny by the ruling whites, all of whom were Democrats.

Neither was this posed photo taken in the 1960s, when the civil rights movement was in full force, and when the adjustments that whites had to make to the dramatic changes in American society were slow in coming.

No, this was 1984, twenty years later, in the new, desegregated south, where black and white children went to school together, where all public accommodations were open to all Americans, black and white, and where black Americans voted alongside their white neighbors in settled, integrated neighborhoods. This was the new America. In 1984, such a public display of bigotry and hate was unacceptable, even if it still surfaced behind the curtain of phony civility, created by dyed-in-the-wool bigots.

So when a medical student, who might otherwise have been considered ‘enlightened’, posed in such a hateful photograph for his medical school yearbook, it spoke volumes about who he really was. And why he should in no way be leading the Commonwealth of Virginia in the 21st century.

The Doctor Says It’s OK to Kill Babies
Which brings us to a second scandal that involves the Governor. In an interview which the Governor gave on January 30th, this pediatric surgeon, who took an oath to “do no harm” and who is now Governor of Virginia, justified a bill that is now going through the Virginia legislature, under the title HB 2491. That bill would allow a full-term baby, on the verge of being born or even newly born, to be killed at the wishes of his mother and her doctor, supporting the idea that it is acceptable to take the life of an infant, even after its birth.
“If a mother is in labor,” explained Northam in his statement, “I can tell you exactly what would happen. 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.” In other words, the mother and her doctor(s) could decide to kill a newborn baby and it would be acceptable under the law.
This bill is similar to one just passed by New York called the Reproductive Health Act, a cynically named law that would allow late-term abortions up until the moment labor begins, long after the baby is viable. The law also eliminates the requirement that only doctors can perform abortions, and it decriminalizes violence against children in the womb. After the bill was passed, the NY Senate gave the new bill a standing ovation, cheering their new law that permits the killing of babies.
Virginia’s legislators may not cheer if their law ultimately passes, but they will have clearly taken the issue further than it has even been before, and many Virginia babies will surely be killed by the very people who should be protecting them.

The Northam Scandals

Northam has proven two uncomfortable truths about the 21st century: that he cannot take back the words he spoke publicly, should he want to, no matter how controversial, because they are recorded for posterity; and that he cannot outrun his history, no matter how inconvenient, because modern technology has many ways to dig up even the most egregious behavior.

The two scandals now facing Governor Northam may very well end his career. While his support for after-birth abortions is not likely to be his political undoing, the issue may soon be brought before the US Supreme Court and Northam’s historical legacy is not likely to treat him kindly. On the other hand, the resurrection of his photograph, in this nation which is currently so sensitive to racial affronts, may very well spell the end of his political career. While he seems determined to hold on to his job, he may not have a choice. The sins of his youth may well determine his future. And Virginia – and America – will be far better off.  Image: (AP Photo/Steve Helber) 

Ilana Freedman

Ilana Freedman is a veteran intelligence analyst with more than thirty years in the field. She was trained in Israel, where she lived and worked for sixteen years. After returning to the U.S., she served as CEO of Gerard Group International in Massachusetts, providing major corporations and government agencies with intelligence-led support for their homeland security programs. Her global network of specialists and field assets has provided her with an ongoing resource of critical, real-time intelligence and domain expertise. Today, Ilana is an independent consultant and author of hundreds of articles on terrorism and the geopolitical landscape. She has written four books on Islamic terrorism, and is currently working on a comprehensive book on China - past, present, and future.

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