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Ralph Northam is confused, but what kind of man is he?

Written By | Feb 2, 2019
Infanticide, Racism, Northam, Abortion, Paul H. Yarborough, Ralph Northam, Ralph Northam is confused, Jim Picht

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WASHINGTON: Virginia Governor Ralph Northam is “asking for the opportunity to earn your forgiveness.” The man he is today, he says, is not the man he was. Who he was isn’t clear. Northam is confused.

In a statement yesterday, Northam says:

“I am deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now. This behavior is not in keeping with who I am today and the values I have fought for throughout my career in the military, in medicine and in public service.”

Today Northram says:

“I reflected with my family and classmates from the time and affirmed my conclusion that I am not the person in that photo.” That person did something “offensive, racist and despicable.” He knows that he’s not that person because he was at a dance festival in San Antonio that year. There he wore blackface in homage to Michael Jackson.

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Says Northam now:

“It is because my memory of that episode is so vivid that I truly believe that I am not in that picture of the yearbook.” He doesn’t believe that he would have worn blackface twice in one year. He says of the dance competition, “I have learned from that.”




What kind of man is Ralph Northam?

In 1984, Northam was a medical student; he was an adult, not a teenager. He grew up in a desegregated south where, for most people, the Klan was not okay. Virginia was a year away from electing a black lieutenant governor, Douglas Wilder. Wilder would later become that state’s governor.

In 1984 Jesse Jackson was running for president. Minstrel shows were relegated to fraternity houses.

Ralph Northam then was a man who wore blackface or a Klan robe for an “offensive, racist and despicable” picture. Or he was a man who wore blackface for a dance competition. The man he is today believes it’s the latter.

The former, though, was close enough to the man he thinks he was that he couldn’t immediately deny that he was in that picture.

Either way, Northam wasn’t the man Virginia voters, fearful that his opponent might have a hidden racist past, intended to vote for last year. They’ve been hit with buyer’s remorse.

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The conservative beef

In recent years Republicans are showing a much greater willingness to forgive youthful behavior,  even into young adulthood, than Democrats do. The days when a young Klan leader like Robert Byrd could grow up to be respected by young Democrats as a lion of the Senate are over.

Republicans insist that the old baggage of middle-aged men and women should vanish like Byrd’s, but voters are increasingly skeptical of that argument.

Republican pundits are as cynical as the next guy and happy to pile on Northam’s black-faced or mock-hooded past. But conservatives have another beef with Northam.

The kind of man Ralph Northam is

Virginia’s House Bill 2491 would have reduced the barriers to third-trimester abortions. In particular, it would have eliminated the requirement that three physicians certify that continuing a pregnancy would pose a mortal risk to the mother. One physician would have to certify that delivery would “substantially and irremediably impair” her physical or mental health.

And as the bill’s sponsor, Virginia Delegate Kathy Tran observed, it would allow abortion up to the point of delivery.



When Northam was asked about that, his response was startling.

“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.”

Did he refer to a situation in which the infant survived the attempt to abort it? It sounded strongly like support for post-birth abortion. That is infanticide.

A kind view is that the kind of man Northam is confused. He’s a man who wore blackface or a Klan robe in medical school. He doesn’t know whether it was for a party or a dance contest. He hopes it was the latter, and he hopes that technology will strip away the blackface and the robe and reveal a classmate, not him.

Northam is confused about the nature of a delivered baby. He thinks that, if the parents tried to abort it, it remains a fetus. As it remains a fetus, it can be killed.

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The kind of man Ralph Northam is not

That’s the kind view. And, as Cory Booker says, our politics would be better if people were kind. So we stipulate that Northam is confused. His confusion about abortion is dangerous, though.

Even strong abortion rights advocates draw a line at delivery as the time when killing an infant isn’t about the mother’s body. She is no longer pregnant; no fetus endangers her mental or physical health.

The mother’s mental and physical health may sometimes depend on crushing her child’s head in the birth canal rather than delivering it alive. Physicians will weigh in on which horrific conditions demand that type of medical care.

Dr. Northam is too confused to comment coherently on that.

Given Dr. Northam’s confusion, Governor Northam is not the kind of man who should be making decisions about abortion laws. And given his confusion about the appropriate and inappropriate uses of blackface, he is not the kind of man who should be governor.

Jim Picht

James Picht is the Senior Editor for Communities Politics. He teaches economics and Russian at the Louisiana Scholars' College in Natchitoches, La. After earning his doctorate in economics, he spent several years doing economic development work in Moscow and the new independent states of the former Soviet Union for the U.S. government, the Asian Development Bank, and as a private contractor. He has also worked in Latin America, the former USSR and the Balkans as an educator, teaching courses in economics and law at universities in Ukraine and at finance ministries throughout the region. He has been writing at the Communities since 2009.