If Democrats are held to their own standards, then all three embattled state officials in the Commonwealth of Virginia should resign. Even if Gov. Ralph Northam didn’t appear in blackface in an image in his medical-school yearbook, he confessed to once darkening his face as part of a Michael Jackson costume.
Attorney General Mark Herring, who called Northam’s conduct indefensible, also used blackface once. Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax has been accused of sexual assault. If ever wearing blackface – even in the 1980s, as both Northam and Herring did – is a career-ender, and if we are supposed to “believe all women,” then all three Democrats have to go.
Virginia is an indication of an inflamed and unforgiving Democratic mood that will define the party’s battle for the 2020 presidential nomination. Democrats are about to embark on the first “woke” primary, a gantlet of political correctness that will routinely wring abject apologies out of candidates and find fault in even the most sure-footed.
The passage of time will be no defense. Nor the best of intentions. Nor anything else. Any lapses will be interpreted through the most hostile lens, made all the more brutal by the competition of a large field of candidates vying for the approval of a radicalized base. Being a progressive hero of long-standing doesn’t afford any protection.
Consider Elizabeth Warren. She certainly deserves all the grief she gets for her laughable identification of herself over the years as an American Indian. But for the identity-politics left, her fault runs deeper. After taking a DNA test to prove her (distant) Native American ancestry, she stood accused, in the words of a member of a tribe in South Dakota, of “privileging nonindigenous definitions of being indigenous.”
According to The New York Times, she had also tread “too far into the fraught area of racial science — a field that has, at times, been used to justify the subjugation of racial minorities and Native Americans.” Yes, Warren stood exposed as implicitly in league with the oppressors of Native Americans — and here she had just wanted Donald Trump to stop calling her Pocahontas. She apologized, and presumably will keep on doing it as long as she’s running.
It’s a season of apologies. When candidate Kirsten Gillibrand went on “The Rachel Maddow Show,” the MSNBC host hit her for having in the past used the term “illegal alien,” although it was standard and technically correct usage. Gillibrand allowed that she was embarrassed by her past positions on immigration. In every presidential campaign, candidates have to explain and backfill to get with the party’s latest program.
What will make this so much more intense for Democrats is the belief that even past mistakes involving the choice of words or symbolism are affirmatively injurious of other people. And that such mistakes represent deep sins to be repented of. Even Kamala Harris, who calls racism, sexism and transphobia matters of “national security,” isn’t safe.
She was once a prosecutor, after all. Reviewing her record, a New York Times op-ed writer said that “she needs to radically break with her past.” Who doesn’t? No one will be woke enough to emerge from this process unscathed.
Rich Lowry is editor of the National Review. (c) 2019 by King Features Synd., Inc.