What you did 40 years ago should follow you forever

Clearly, that’s what all liberals believe.  That’s why we are fighting to perpetuate mass incarceration by giving ever longer sentences and emphasizing the impossibility of reform and rehabilitation for those in prison.

Oh, wait.  I guess that’s not true.  But, hey, if you were a stupid frat boy who wore blackface to a party in 1980, clearly, you are not fit for political office ever again.  The latest on the matter is that Virginia’s Attorney General has not admitted to this.  And it is particularly relevant, as Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor stands accused of a serious sexual offense.  The Post:

Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D) said Wednesday he dressed in blackface during college, elevating the Capitol’s scandals to a new level that engulfed the entire executive branch of government.

Now, Herring, Gov. Ralph Northam and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax – the state’s three top Democrats – are each embroiled in separate scandals that threaten their careers. Also on Wednesday, the woman who has accused Fairfax of sexual assault made her first public statements, going into graphic detail of an alleged 2004 attack which Fairfax has vehemently denied.

Fairfax, who was presiding over the state Senate on Wednesday, quietly slipped out of the statehouse as the statement from Vanessa Tyson ricocheted around Capitol Square. It came just as the public was digesting an earlier statement from Herring, in which he admitted to darkening his skin to dress as rapper Kurtis Blow for a 1980 college party when he was 19.

So far, not every Democrat is calling for him to step down.  But that may well be because the next in line to succession to the VA governorship after him is actually a Republican.  I’d like to think it is because cooler heads have prevailed, but I suspect it is more political calculation.

Oh, and for the record, Northam has handled this abominably and I’m comfortable with him resigning as a result.  But what bothered me so much was the complete rush to judgement with no context of actions that happened decades ago.

To my ears, Herring has said all the right things.  And that should matter:

“It sounds ridiculous even now writing it,” Herring said in his statement. “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.”

Herring called it a “onetime occurrence” for which he accepted responsibility.

“That conduct clearly shows that, as a young man, I had a callous and inexcusable lack of awareness and insensitivity to the pain my behavior could inflict on others,” Herring said. “It was really a minimization of both people of color, and a minimization of a horrific history I knew well even then.”

And I really appreciated this statement of support:

Karl Racine, the attorney general of the District of Columbia, said Herring called him early Wednesday.

“He took full responsibility for his clear mistake and assured me that his political aspirations would take a backseat to what is in the best interest of Virginians,” Racine said in a statement to the Post.

Yes!  Again, I don’t know Northam’s history, but if Herring has a clear political history of actually fighting for racial justice, that seems to me that this fact far outweighs what he did as a stupid college kid in a very different environment.  In fact, we’re just going to see more and more of this from white men who went to college before 1990 or so.  Again, not all to say what they did was okay, or that it isn’t offensive or racist.  But if somebody has a whole adult life after that shows that’s not who they are, that should matter.  And, honestly, it should especially matter to liberals.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

5 Responses to What you did 40 years ago should follow you forever

  1. Mike in Chapel Hill says:

    I absolutely agree with you. The reflexive overreaction by liberals is offensive and annoying. But what’s worse is how destructive it is to the liberal brand, politicians, and people like me who agree with most liberal ideas — I can abide by nor defend this absolutist and context-free knee-jerkism. It seems like the most vocal contingent of liberals have no sense of proportionality, context, or standards of evaluation. It is the perfect fodder for Fox Noise and Limbaugh. It turns every racially-tinged transgression into a full-fledged RACIST!! act of violence, every offender into a full-on fascist/zenophbic/racist/homophobe/Nazi. It converts people who who made mistakes when they were young into hypocrites if they apologize or racists if they don’t apologize. And a lot of times it seems as if the “mistakes” are only defined as such as the rules for offensive behavior are constantly expanded, stretched, and redefined. It will be interesting to learn what a horrible person I am (and was) by the ever-changing and thoughtless standards of the future liberal morals police.

  2. R. Jenrette says:

    I agree completely. One allegation should not ruin anyone’s career political or otherwise without some supporting facts. It is just too easy to throw out an allegation when the public perception is that making an allegation is revealing the truth. Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t. People aren’t angels. Politics has seen dirty tricks.
    I won’t support Senator Gillibrand because I think she was a leader in turning the #MeToo movement into a “believe the woman’s allegation no matter what”.
    Isn’t that the very definition of a witch hunt?
    It isn’t about sexual misconduct, racial misconduct alone but all the other misconducts. There’s got to be a way developed so all these are not life or death, career or ruin and that the worst penalty is reserved for the worst offense.

  3. Nicole K. says:

    Yeah, I can remember how different things were in 2001 when I graduated from high school compared to the way things are now. I never did anything especially crazy (and none of it is documented in a yearbook or other publicly accessible publication). But I definitely said and did things that I cringe to think about now. For example, I went along with some pretty transphobic joking when I was in boarding school and living in an all-male dorm with a majority of varsity athletes. I did it because I wanted to have friends, and I would have made that a lot harder for myself had I stood up and announced my hidden gender dysphoria. Not only would I have become grist for the campus rumor mill, but I would have made myself into a social outcast. It’s just the way things were at that time and place in my life.

    So I’m sympathetic and believe that people can actually grow and mature and should be able to leave the person they were more than a decade ago in the past where it belongs. After all, I’m pretty sure just about everyone has something they’re not proud in their past if someone decides to dig hard enough.

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