“You know, it was said that the eyes of the nation are now on The Commonwealth… and I am here to let you know that The Doctor is in, and this Doctor will be on call for the next four years!” – Ralph Northam Acceptance Speech
The Democratic Party of Virginia, at some point in recent history, gave Virginia a hero they did not want, did not need, and certainly did not deserve. But His Excellency Ralph Northam is the hero Virginia got, and the hero they cannot seem to get rid of.
Unlike most heroes, His Excellency did not come from meager beginnings, and many Virginians would argue that Northam did not even come from Virginia. He hails from the “Eastern Shore,” a mysterious land disconnected from the rest of the Commonwealth which most would assume is Maryland even if it’s Delaware.
The 73rd Governor of Virginia, even while Governor, was still a nobody. But fate and circumstance have a way of dumping barrels of misfortune upon the worthy and the unworthy alike. Ralph reached out with his governoresque arms to embrace the putrid rain, and may even go down in history as the Last “Southern Democrat.” As we get started, please be advised that topics within this article will include racism, sexual assault, infanticide, and abortion.
Act I: Infanticide
“If a mother is in labor, 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.” – Ralph Northam
The Ballad of Ralph Northam begins as Virginia House Bill 2491 is introduced to the State Legislature. Sponsored by Delegate Kathy Tran, the bill sought to loosen restrictions on abortions performed in Virginia, and was popularly talked about nationwide as the second act in an ‘Abortion Revolution’ that started in New York only about a week before Ralph became a household name. The bill was certainly controversial, and was depicted in as much negative light as possible during the legislative debate.
His Excellency Ralph Northam, the hero of our tale, opened his mouth on January 30, 2019. In an effort to help, because Democrats like to help each other, Ralph appeared on the somewhat-regularly scheduled “Ask The Governor” show on station WTOP. His mouth then let words come out. The words that his mouth came up with, as quoted before, irreparably and completely destroyed the Virginia House bill in question by painting an image of infant euthanasia only theoretically relevant to the conversation. At no point had this bill been about infanticide as described by His Excellency, but infanticide is what Ralph decided the bill should be about, and what Ralph made it about, whether he intended to or not.
Taken both within and without context, the spoken prose of His Excellency depicted his medical opinion of, what sounds like, a failed abortion in which a deformed baby is born and then set aside as a “discussion” is held between physician and parent over whether or not to euthanize the newborn. Ralph, who is actually a trained pediatric neurologist, could have weighed in with his expert opinion some other way. But that would be half-assing it.
Wreck-It Ralph does not half-ass things. Ralph ensured, in as little as a sentence, that his own political party would make no progress on the issue most dear to the elected representatives of Virginia. Had Ralph not been there, the “Virginia Way” may have come down from heaven like a messiah (or at least a meteor) and brought to the People of Virginia a solution that nobody would be happy with and everyone would blame each other for arriving at. Instead, Ralph’s executive privilege of being “the man in charge” ensured that people as far away as California, Canada, and Australia would not only know that the bill had been sabotaged, but that His Excellency Ralph Northam had sabotaged it.
Act II: The Klan
“There are more old drunks than old doctors in this world so I think I’ll have another beer.” – Ralph Northam, Yearbook
Now that Ralph didn’t have any friends left among Democratic women, an act of God came about to ensure that Ralph didn’t have any friends anywhere else either, because only 2 days after butchering the House bill, Ralph showed up in a photograph either in blackface or in a Ku Klux Klan outfit, and though nobody seems to know which, it’s one of these. The photo came from his own med school yearbook.
Democrats in “The South,” which despite conventional wisdom actually does include Virginia, have been trying for many decades to try and play down their party’s history with The Klan. Let that sink in: DECADES. And Ralph single-handedly undid those decades of progress without even trying.
You see, Ralph is just old enough to be Democratic and racist; something much better masked in the modern day, if not solemnly extinct by modern definition. His Excellency is the last of a dying race; the last dodo bird. At age 59, the chances that Ralph could still develop into a “Dixie Democrat” was at risk but somehow came to term (abortion pun intended) in his Eastern Shore isolation, and this went unnoticed as he climbed the political ladder into a governorship where his final form could break free from his political caccoon like a racist butterfly.
Though it is sickening that at some point, wearing blackface or Klan robes was an acceptable thing to do, there is a sense of pride many Southerners feel when they make it to adulthood without doing either. Ralph doesn’t kiss and tell, but he’s made it clear that he did at least one of these things, had his picture taken, and then signed the page it was printed on while making it clear that his medical training is an afterthought to his career; his TRUE aspiration is to be an alcoholic.
And to make it worse, he almost immediately apologized for the photograph and THEN denied that he was ever in it. In a press conference, Northam even went as far as to recommend the use of the facial recognition software to clear his name. Naturally he didn’t go though with it.
I’m sure some people out there can relate, but how the hell does a pediatric neurologist have the time to be an alcoholic, a Klansman, and a governor at the same time? Only Ralph knows the secret to the juggling of so many successful occupations. Whether or not His Excellency was ever actually a Klansman is completely irrelevant now. Once in Klan robes, always in Klan robes. This is the way of mass media and thus the way of the world.
Act III: The First Lady of Virginia
“I regret that I have upset anyone,” Northam said. “I am still committed to chronicling the important history of the Historic Kitchen, and will continue to engage historians and experts on the best way to do so in the future.” – Virginia First Lady Pam Northam
At the very end of January, Ralph became a baby-butcherer. At the very start of February, Ralph became a racist baby-butcherer. And by the end of February, any debate whatsoever about the perception of racism in the Northam family was put to rest as Mrs. Northam took some time out of her busy schedule to hand cotton to black kids and ask them to imagine being slaves. Not a single letter of what you just read is exaggeration.
After all, if a person is not born a slave, one can at least experience being one through the power of being gifted a wad of cotton. And this is how Her Excellency Pam Northam became a household name too, and it was still February. About 20 teenagers who had served as pages for the Virginia Senate were touring the Virginia Capitol Building, which had literally served as the capital of the Confederate States of America, and Mrs. Northam took enough time out of her day to show them around. In that process, she selected the African-American youth among them to be the recipients of some cotton that she had in her possession, along with a guided thought exercise featuring a life in chains.
Not only is this offensive, but it’s unnecessarily offensive. A true attempt at being offensive, and honestly quite racist, is often undertaken with far less forethought and far less effort. But Pam, who seemed to have included neither forethought nor effort as an ingredient in this scandal, managed to match her husband’s Klan/blackface debacle by ensuring irrecoverably that anyone who isn’t white would be uncomfortable in her presence as well.
By the way, the white kids did not get any cotton. This was an experience reserved by Mrs. Northam for young African-Americans only.
Leah Walker, the overseer of the Office of Equity and Community Engagement at the Virginia Department of Education, chimed in: “I can not for the life of me understand why the first lady would single out the African American pages for this — or — why she would ask them such an insensitive question.” Yet here we are.
Act IV: The Lieutenant Governor
“…and had I had the strength, or the courage to say something in 2000, maybe it never would have happened to her.” – Meredith Watson
With all of the Northam-related news coming from Virginia, it might have been easy to overlook the sexual assault allegations made against Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor, Justin Fairfax. Justin is only the second African-American individual to be elected to a statewide office in Virginia.
Justin is not particularly special, and even those who spend ample time reading Virginia’s news could have gone for a long period of time unaware that the man existed. While Ralph was defending himself from Republicans over his eerie infanticide comments, as well as from Democrats regarding his med-school yearbook photo, Justin was busy defending himself from not one, but TWO sexual assault allegations.
Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson, respectively, told their stories regarding Fairfax, but Virginia’s priorities were still fixated on Northam’s yearbook photos. Watson even stated that she had been raped by Fairfax when they were college students at Duke University. Fairfax was fully political about the accusations and claimed to take them seriously, and in April it was made known that he had taken some polygraph tests to try and clear his name. Fairfax actually passed these tests, but it should be noted that polygraph tests are often regarded as pseudoscientific and are absolutely not admissible in Virginia’s court system.
The damage was done. Northam and Fairfax would spend their time defending themselves instead of each other as the ship continued to sink. And sink it did.
Act V: The Attorney General
“It sounds ridiculous even now writing it. But because of our ignorance and glib attitudes, and because we did not have an appreciation for the experiences and perspectives of others, we dressed up and put on wigs and brown makeup.” – Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring
It would be a shame to progress from the wreckage of February without at least a brief flashback to the preemptive admission of racist guilt by Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, who I cannot imagine did anything but gaze on in horror as his boss’s Klan/blackface photograph showed up on television, the internet, and practically everywhere else.
Whether to fall on his sword by attempting to normalize Northam’s behavior, or whether this was just a run-of-the-mill political suicide is up for debate. Herring had not even been discovered doing anything racist, but came forward to let the world know that he was racist anyway. At the exact moment that everybody was staring at Virginia, Herring stood up so the entire country could see him and admitted that in 1980 he had also worn blackface and attempted to imitate or satirize a rapper.
Richmond was now ablaze as the governor, the Lieutenant Governor, and the Attorney General cringed and braced themselves for whatever could possibly happen next. There was a queue of really bad information about the Virginia government, but the nation’s attention could only focus on one at a time. Once Northam’s shame had fizzled out, everybody was interested in Fairfax and Herring. Two racists and a rapist had just walked into a bar and there wasn’t even a punchline.
Act VI: The NAACP
Most people would have given up and resigned by now, but not Ralph. His Excellency was just getting started. In April, Northam absolutely refused to take the hint that his people no longer loved him, and started backing out of fundraising events due to “safety concerns.” Could anybody blame him? Northam had only announced that he was appearing at the fundraising events for a couple of Democrats who would safely be retaining their seats, and did not really need him.
It’s quite reminiscent of the moment that the Virginia Legislature did not need him but he came along to save the day anyway. And in the case of these fundraisers, Northam’s people feared for his continuity as a living organism.
Who, in their right mind, would wish to be associated with this man at this point in history? In so many words, this was the question asked by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Northam’s approval rating was lower than even that of Donald Trump, and that is a laughably low bar to jump over.
In a moment of true rarity, the Republican Party of Virginia and the NAACP seemed to be planning to follow Ralph around and protest the events in which he appeared. The GOP and NAACP have very little in common, but Ralph has a way of bringing even the disparate people together.
If there is a bad omen for a Democrat, is it being on the NAACP’s shit-list. There may be no lower form of being. Insurmountable though the odds had been, Ralph accomplished the impossible.
Let me try this again: Two racists and a rapist walk into a bar… honestly I’m having a hard time finding this funny. I’m trying to loosen up the creative flow, but lo and behold, it’s just sad. Tragic, really.
Despite all the scandals, Ralph continues to make sense to Virginia by embracing the “Virginia Way,” a rough set of sociopolitical rules in Virginia that make partisan disagreement somewhat unseemly and makes Virginia notorious for bipartisanship.
Because of the recent condition, the average Virginian seems to have forgiven His Excellency for his photograph, and many Virginians truly appreciate what he inadvertently did to sink the abortion bill that Virginia then faced, even if they cannot say so. Because of the one-term policy, Ralph doesn’t need anything else. The man will survive. As was reported in April by VOX, a very narrow majority of Virginians think that Northam should stay in office. As a Virginian with much experience in Virginia, I can attest that this is unlikely to change.
Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, who has been on leave since February from the law firm of his employment, Morrison & Foerster, very recently announced his resignation. The scandal has cost him his job, and once the man has retired as Lieutenant Governor, he will likely be unemployed.
Attorney General Mark Herring has spent his time being a perfect Democrat and the epitome of progressive since he announced that he had once been in blackface. Already known for his positive statements regarding legal marijuana, Herring recently pushed for equal access to homeless shelters despite gender identity. All in all, Herring has faired the best of the three players in 2019’s suicide game. Despite his attempts at advocating for popular bleeding-heart causes, the little national name recognition Herring maintains is primarily based on his admission of wearing blackface at some point decades ago.
In the future, should racist Northam resign, alleged rapist Justin Fairfax would assume the throne. And if Fairfax resigns, racist Herring would be up next. By the time Herring could be forced to resign, it would be election season again and the state would be looking for a non-racist and/or non-rapist to win over the people and wash the bad taste of the Northam administration out of their mouths. The best of all worlds is to let Ralph finish up, and this scenario has been accepted in the Commonwealth.
The Virginia Way
Virginia may be unique among states within the USA. Virginians hold a dogmatic view towards pragmatic government – an inherent contradiction if you think about it long enough. Disagreement is considered natural, and Virginians are quite political people, more often than not willing to discuss their ideas and attitudes knowing well that within the scope of the Commonwealth, disagreements between positions will simply lead to a synthesized arrangement between the Democrat and Republican positions.
What is known as the “Virginia Way” is a small, unstable bridge in state politics, where Democrats are somewhat willing to work with Republicans who are somewhat willing to work with Democrats.
The county that I grew up in was rumored to have had the highest population of millionaires per capita in the state at some point. But having grown up there, it was always obvious that the state legislature cared very little about anybody living outside of the richest section of the state – “NOVA,” or Northern Virginia, is a land of lobbyists too good to live in DC and wealthy enough to avoid Maryland. The “Virginia Way” is a hoax; a display of productivity for the rest of the nation to see. It is such displays that allow someone like Ralph Northam to escape scandals relatively unscathed, because infighting is looked down upon as an egregious non-necessity. Northam has given Republicans every opportunity to push for his resignation, and though it was mentioned, nothing came of it. Losing that bipartisan attitude would be too costly.
As Post, So Modern
In my last iteration of Shortcuts & Delusions, I covered to the best of my ability the concept of Absurdism, as permanently defined by Albert Camus, as a way of demonstrating the absurdity in the criticism that Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson received in 2016. That was about six months ago.
What is written is subject to the interpretation of the reader. What is spoken is subject to the interpretation of the listener. And what is experienced is subject to the interpretation of the person living the experience. What one sees as red, another may see as blue; dictionary definitions only standardize how we communicate ideas, but do little to draw us to the same experiences and conclusions.
I dare, or rather challenge, you to identify a greater waste of time than dwelling on or arguing about what someone’s opinion used to be; how they behaved when wearing a younger man’s clothes. When Ralph Northam assumed office, diversity was among the concepts he celebrated. Nobody remembers this, because blackfaced attire and militant white nationalist outfits are far more interesting and far more memorable.
This is by no means to excuse his past behavior, but rather to note that Ralph is not the only person forced by social perception to be the person he was decades ago – say the wrong thing, and this thing will always be assumed to be a part of you, even if you correct it later. American society specially checks the backgrounds of public figures, rooting through decades of garbage for dirty laundry. Who Ralph is; who he has become, may have been obvious at one point, but now it’s a mystery. He is now and will forever be “racist,” owing this reputation to a stupid thing printed on a yearbook page.
Some crimes are simply unforgivable. But what, if anything, could Ralph Northam be charged with for having been less than a genius in his younger days?
Michel Foucault used the “Panopticon” prison design of Jeremy Bentham as an example of how social rules and norms are enforced. There is no central authority that decides what is and is not acceptable. Such decisions are made by you and I, even when we are unaware that we are drawing these lines in the sand. I was recently given a very brief lecture on the opinion I came to about a book I read early in my teen years, having quoted what my initial impression was. It did not take long to be notified that, from the moment I said something, that opinion had become permanent. That decade-old initial opinion IS my opinion now, not because it is an opinion that I espouse, but because I admitted to having espoused it in the past.
And all of your past actions, beliefs, behaviors, etc… are permanent in someone’s mind. The people around you live in an actual world in which that person still exists, and is still you. There is something to be said for those who do all in their power to scrub the world of memories of themselves.
All of us are subject to creating this rule, and enforcing it candidly. Our interest in understanding the world around us demands certain levels of simplification that create functioning points of reference in our minds. And as for myself, I often forget that this is the case. My own biases are as illusive to me as yours are to you, if not moreso.
Imagine being a human being with an unflattering, socially unacceptable photograph floating around in the void. You may look older, and you may be older, but if it surfaces, you will be that young person again for the rest of foreseeable human memory. You may make impressions on people who care what you are doing and saying now, but the things that are socially unacceptable are of interest to society at large – and it is the collective impression of society that your photograph will imprint upon. What a long memory they have.
We don’t have a circle to complete, but because the opportunity to reference Jeremy Bentham appeared a paragraph ago, and because the date of this publication is the Fourth of July, this moment of context cannot be ignored. Jeremy Betham did more than design a prison-turned-parable. He critiqued the Declaration of Independence. And though I encourage you to read the entire critique, because you have completed the Ballad herein and are likely too lazy to fumble through the couch cushions for the remote and thereafter change the channel, I leave you with an excerpt to be dwelled upon:
“The rights of ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ — by which, if they mean anything, they must mean the right to enjoy life, to enjoy liberty, and to pursue happiness — they ‘hold to be unalienable.’ This they ‘hold to be among truths self-evident.’ At the same time, to secure these rights, they are content that Governments should be instituted. They perceive not, or will not seem to perceive, that nothing which can be called Government ever was, or ever could be, in any instance, exercised, but at the expence of one or other of those rights. — That, consequently, in as many instances as Government is ever exercised, some one or other of these rights, pretended to be unalienable, is actually alienated.” – Jeremy Bentham, founder of modern Utilitarianism
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