Opinion | Campaign

Press: Time for Ralph Northam to go

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It was heartening to see a Democrat elected as governor of Virginia in 2017, the first sign that a new, progressive Democratic Party might take back the Old South. Which is why it's so heartbreaking to see that same Democratic governor suddenly shatter that dream.

No matter how hard he twists himself into a pretzel, there's no way Gov. Ralph Northam can defend the photo on his personal page in his 1984 medical school yearbook showing two men: one in blackface, and the other in a Ku Klux Klan robe and hood. At first, he said he couldn't remember whether he was one or the other. But he still couldn't explain why they were featured on his page in the first place. And how can anyone believe, as he insists, that he never knew about that photo, never laid eyes on his own medical school yearbook, until last Friday?

The next day, Northam only made matters worse. In a bizarre news conference, Northam first contradicted himself. Upon further reflection, he told reporters, he'd wrongly stated he was one of the two men on his yearbook page. He was neither the man in blackface, nor the man in KKK garb. However, Northam added - as if this would somehow explain his confusion - he had, indeed, appeared in blackface once that very same year, in a Michael Jackson dance contest. Trying to make light of his racist garb, Northam joked that he'd used very little black shoe polish because "I don't know if anybody has ever tried that, but you cannot get shoe polish off." Obviously, he'd tried it before.

Northam also stretches credulity when he suggests he deserves a pass because, after all, this happened way back in 1984, when he was only 25 years old. Please! Give us a break! 1984 is not ancient history. That was 30 years after Brown v. Board of Education, which ended segregation in public schools; 21 years after the March on Washington; 20 years after the Civil Rights Act; 19 years after the Voting Rights Act; and 16 years after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. By that time, even a young man of 25 who grew up on Virginia's Eastern Shore knew that slavery, racism - and blackface - were un-American. Northam deserves no break for claiming to be too young to know the difference.

At this point, even though Northam still stubbornly refuses to resign, it seems it's only a matter of time. His racist photos have been condemned by a cascade of top Democrats, including Virginia's two senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Virginia's Democratic members of Congress, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), every announced Democratic presidential candidate for 2020, and Democratic National Chairman Tom Perez. He has no allies left, and deserves none.

Northam did say one thing that makes sense: If it becomes clear that he cannot be effective as governor, he would revisit the issue. That time is now. There's only one path forward. Ralph Northam must resign as governor. The sooner he does so, the better - for the commonwealth of Virginia, for the nation and for the Democratic Party.

Nor will Democrats shed any tears when he steps down. Northam's departure will leave Virginia in the capable hands of Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax, former deputy U.S. attorney and, as fate would have it, only the second African-American elected statewide in Virginia history. Somehow, that seems the perfect ending to a tragic story.

Press is host of "The Bill Press Show" on Free Speech TV and author of "From the Left: A Life in the Crossfire."