Virginia Governor Ralph Northam is scheduled to give a press conference today at 2:30 PM. The live feed is at the bottom of the post.
As late yesterday afternoon turned to night and then morning, Governor Northam has apparently decided he won’t resign. From the reporting, Northam no longer believes, despite yesterday’s apology by video, that he is in the offensive picture. Specifically, he doesn’t remember the photo, nor does he believe that he is the man in blackface, nor the man in the Klan costume. And he has been contacting his former classmates to ask if they know who the two men are who are in the picture.*
.@BobbyScott, the dean of the Va delegation, tells me he wants to hear from the governor.
“The facts were fairly straightforward last night,” he said. “So let’s see if there are any new facts”
Scott has stopped just short of calling on Northam to quit last night
— Jonathan Martin (@jmartNYT) February 2, 2019
NEW: Northam told a senior Virginia Democrat this morning that he never selected the photos for the yearbook and, in conversations with med school classmates, he had been told some of the pictures were mixed up across the pages
— Jonathan Martin (@jmartNYT) February 2, 2019
All of this may be true: that it is not Northam in the picture and that the picture was put on the wrong page. It doesn’t matter. He’s had that yearbook for almost 34 years. So have others who were in medical school with him at the time. Had he come out, during his first run for office or even his run for governor when the Virginian Republican Party and his Republican opponent, Ed Gillispie who went all in on xenophobia, accused him of turning his back on his own family’s history with the Confederacy, disclosed the picture, explained that it was coming to an understanding that going to a costume party in blackface and/or in a Klan costume was both wrong and morally unacceptable, and that is why he’s denounced his forebears service to and support of the Confederacy, there would be a very different discussion about the photo, the yearbook, and whether Northam should remain in office. This is, however, not what happened.
It doesn’t matter whether he’s in the photo or not. It doesn’t matter if it was put on the right yearbook page or not. It doesn’t matter if this accurately represents who Northam is in 2019. Right now America, both state and society, are subjected to a non-stop barrage of bigotry, prejudice, and lying from the President of the United States. Every time he gives remarks, off the cuff or prepared, whether from the Oval Office, the Roosevelt Room, the Cabinet Room, the Rose Garden, the White House lawn, one of his rallies, or, as I fully expect to happen, from the dais of the House of Representatives next Tuesday, Americans are confronted with a President who lies about his own bigotry and prejudice, then makes more bigoted and prejudiced statements, and then delivers more lies on a wide variety of topics. Right now one political party, the Republican Party, goes out of its way to cozy up to, play footsie with, and tolerate bigots. It’s why Senator McConnell can condemn Congressman Steve King’s remarks, while never being held to account for his own longstanding relationship with neo-Confederate organizations. It’s why Congressman Scalise can do the same thing despite campaigning for Congress as “David Duke without the baggage”. And that’s before we get to the President’s political appointees, such as Stephen Miller and Kirstjen Nielsen, who are just as bad if not worse.
Right now there is a need in the US for both formal and informal leaders, and this includes Northam, to stand up, tell the truth, and do the right thing. American state and society are in desperate need for more of this, not less. And Northam can do America a great service today if he stands up at his press conference and provides one last act of formal leadership and resign. He needs to resign not because he or anyone else may be sure that he is actually either the man in black face or the man in the Klan costume or that the picture is on the right page, but because American needs to see examples of leaders who take responsibility, even if they’re not 100% sure that they are the responsible party, when something bad happens, and then take the hard and important first steps to fix the problem. Which, in this case, would be to resign. The real question about whether Northam is a real leader, and is even morally fit to be a leader, is less about the picture in his yearbook from 1985. It is really about whether he leads today by giving up power and seeing it peacefully and efficiently transferred to his lieutenant governor or whether he tries to petulantly cling to power in the hope that an explanation for the photo surfaces that exonerates him and allows him to brazen this out. You can’t teach character, despite what the knuckleheads at the Combined Arms Center think. You can identify it, you can nurture it. You can mentor it. You can reinforce it. But you either have it or you don’t. At 2:30 today we will learn if Governor Northam has character and is actually fit to lead, even as he gives up formal leadership, or if he doesn’t.
Update at 3:55 PM EDT
Governor Northam has announced that he won’t be resigning. Here’s the response from the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus:
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus Addresses Northam's Refusal to Resign pic.twitter.com/z8pt15Uq3U
— VLBC (@VaBlackCaucus) February 2, 2019
* It is possible, though not probable, given what we know of them, that this is PJ and Squi in the picture after brewskis at Timmy’s with Brett, Judge, Tom, and Bernie because they were all black out drunks in high school at Georgetown Prep and this is the type of things they would do. But I think this is highly unlikely.