Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam needs to understand that his entire career will be seen in the light of his blackface scandal. It might not be the overriding event, but it’ll always be in the background. The pictures, the clubfooted way that it was handled, his refusal to step down — all of those will be remembered when his political epitaph is written.
All of that makes his decision to don a face mask on Monday a bit puzzling.
Not because it wasn’t a valid public demonstration, mind you, but because he chose a black mask.
Number affected by COVID-19 in Va. is likely much higher than reported tally of 2,878 because of lag in testing https://t.co/lqVgCEDvW6
— Times-Dispatch (@RTDNEWS) April 7, 2020
The Democratic governor, like many politicians, was giving a news conference updating Virginians on the latest coronavirus numbers and instructions. Talking about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new recommendation that people wear face coverings to prevent infection, he noted the masks reduce the possibility of either breathing in infected droplets or exhaling them into the air.
“We all have masks, and when we exit the building, that’s when we wear our masks,” Northam said. “But when we’re inside, in our offices, we don’t keep them on.”
If you’re in the office with other people, this is actually the opposite of what you want to do, unless you’re very well socially distanced and the office is large and well-ventilated.
But I digress, since we’re here because Northam decided to make an ill-advised visual gaffe.
To make things worse, NBC’s Washington affiliate, WRC-TV, didn’t quite catch the problem with Northam’s choice of anti-coronavirus attire until this tweet got fired off:
— Curtis Houck (@CurtisHouck) April 6, 2020
This was, ahem, remedied with a decided quickness.
“Correction: We made a misjudgment in a tweet about Gov. Northam’s face mask,” WRC-TV tweeted. “We sincerely apologize for the error.”
Correction: We made a misjudgment in a tweet about Gov. Northam’s face mask. We sincerely apologize for the error.
— NBCWashington (@nbcwashington) April 6, 2020
Don’t apologize. We all need a few laughs in this whole morass of fear and boredom.
In that vein, The Daily Caller’s Chuck Ross reminded us about Northam’s very scanty apology for his whole blackface kerfuffle:
lol. They’re apologizing harder for a tweet than Northam ever did for wearing black face (or a KKK robe). https://t.co/mERYcbS2zb
— Chuck Ross (@ChuckRossDC) April 6, 2020
To recap: After he made some unpleasantly worded comments regarding abortion in early 2019, some conservative political operatives found Northam’s medical school yearbook. On his page was a picture of a man in blackface together with a man in Ku Klux Klan getup.
Northam initially apologized for being in the photo, but then rescinded his apology and said that wasn’t him in the picture. How would he know? He had dressed up in blackface as Michael Jackson for a dance competition in that same year. He said he was very sorry for that, and showed exactly how sorry he was when he considered moonwalking during a news conference at a reporter’s request. (His wife — fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you feel about the matter — saved whatever chances he had of reassembling his political legacy by stopping him.)
How the photo ended up in his yearbook in the first place — even if it wasn’t Northam — was never established, and nobody seemed particularly interested in asking too much about it.
Northam refused to resign despite mounting calls for him to step aside. As those calls mounted, so did the revelations about who was in line for the seat. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, in short order, was accused of sexual assault. The second man in line, Attorney General Mark Herring, had also worn blackface at a college party.
This all turned out to be highly irrelevant, because Northam is still governor.
It’s not as if he gave some sort of heartfelt apology or worked diligently to make amends with the people of Virginia. He waited it out. That’s all he had to do. He just sat there, didn’t moonwalk and — poof! — it was status quo ante.
As the WRC-TV tweet proved, some people have forgotten this dumpster conflagration even happened. It’s not to say he should have resigned for a youthful indiscretion, even one this serious, but he at least should have given some kind of substantive apology and, if not, the media should have ensured that was the alpha and omega of his political legacy. Neither has happened or will happen.
For those of us who remember, it was indeed a “striking moment.” For the future, I would advise the governor to avail himself of a mask of a different color. At least in his case, black doesn’t go with everything.
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