Woody Allen was expelled from NYU for cheating on a metaphysics exam.
He got caught peering into another student’s soul.
The old Allen gag invariably comes to mind as Virginia collapses under the weight of public opprobrium for newly revealed, but decades-old, racial insensitivities committed by a trio of its leaders, most notably Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam.
Northam, it seems, found inexplicable utility in wearing blackface to a medical school party in 1984. When confronted with alleged evidence of it, he bungled his explanation, and the Democratic establishment pounced, calling for his immediate resignation.
Democratic detractors ironically included Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, who soon would confess that he donned blackface at a college party in the 1980s. Days later, in a stab at bipartisanship, the finger of accusal was pointed at Republican Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment. He had been a student editor of the 1968 Virginia Military Institute yearbook, which included blackface photos. How had he not seen them?
All three of their souls are now under public attack, but none more so than Northam. The 2019 thought police want his 1984 keister, and no amount of contrition can redeem him. His decades-long record of working with and on behalf of African-Americans has been rendered immaterial.
This is all about politics, of course. How can the Democratic Party paint today’s Republican Party racist when there are Northams and Herrings in its ranks? How can a party that disassociated itself from Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson for having held 200-year-old opinions forgive the manifestation of an attitude that existed in the era of Frankie Goes to Hollywood?
The bottom line is, it can’t: The Democratic Party is creating an impossible standard for its leaders. The party will eat itself alive if it continues down this path. (Wasn’t the Democratic Party the pro-slavery party, for example? How can it keep that name?)
I was at NYU when Northam was in medical school. There was no blackface on our campus, but Woody Allen was mercifully gone. Which of us — much less Allen himself — could have survived public scrutiny of our souls? Who could survive it now? Not me.
Like it or not, Northam’s fight is about more than just political survival; it’s about redemption of the fallible. It’s about each of us, ultimately. Maybe we should drop the pitchforks and wish him luck instead.
William F.B. O’Reilly is a consultant to Republicans.