When Virginia Governor Ralph Northam endorsed fourth-trimester abortions last week, nobody called for his resignation. His decision 35 years ago to masquerade, either in blackface or as a Klansman — which malefaction against taste Northam engaged in seems unclear — offends modern sensibilities to such a degree that his party, his predecessor, and nearly every presidential wannabe says he should step down. This says something more about us than him.
Democrats did not always exhibit a zero-tolerance policy toward dressing up in white sheets. They once, at least in some parts of the country, demanded it from candidates.
In 1924, the Democratic National Convention rejected, by a single vote, a resolution condemning the Ku Klux Klan. The nation’s most prominent Democrat, William Jennings Bryan, used his considerable rhetorical gifts to shamefully aid the nos. “My friends,” the three-time presidential nominee told the convention, “it requires more courage to fight the Republican Party than it does to fight the Ku Klux Klan.”
In 1937, before Supreme Court nominees received the Brett Kavanaugh treatment, President Franklin Roosevelt placed Hugo Black, a former Klansman, on the high court. A proto-Patrick Howley revealed Black’s resignation letter from the Ku Klux Klan, which he signed under an “I.T.S.U.B.” (In the Sacred, Unfailing Bond) complimentary close — a common, cryptic acronym favored by the secret society — after the Alabaman had secured his spot. Why did not Roosevelt use the Justice Department to investigate Black? The president reasoned that “a man’s private life is supposed to be his private life.” On the court, Black’s private views became public policy. Black authored the Korematsudecision. Klansmen have consequences.
As late as 1989, Democrats called a former KKK Exalted Cyclops their leader in the United States Senate. Robert Byrd acknowledged, and regretted, his youthful involvement in the murderous hate group. But his “fleeting association,” as Bill Clinton put it, with the KKK appeared not so much as a moment of insensitivity, as some might construe Northam dressing up in the mid-1980s, as a prolonged period of bigotry at its ugliest. “Rather I should die a thousand times, and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again,” he wrote Senator Theodore Bilbo, another Democrat associated with the KKK, “than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds.”
Less than a decade ago, a more forgiving Left came together to eulogize Byrd as a great man. “Robert Byrd Showed That People Can Change,” a headline of an article in the Progressive read. Byrd did change.
So did the Democratic Party, albeit not entirely. Though no Democrat with a known past association with as odious an organization as the KKK could win election to high office today, Democrats still appear awkwardly obsessed with race. This obsession manifests itself in aggressively promoting racial preferences and incentivizing immigration through giveaways to shift demography for the benefit of their electoral fortunes. It also manifests itself in rote, reflexive calls to resign for decades-old insensitivity most offensive to the party’s most loyal racial bloc.
Whether what Northam did in his twenties reflects on his character in his fifties seems a debatable proposition. His lack of candor in addressing the picture in his yearbook — alternatively apologizing for acting like a jerk and denying appearing in the offensive garb — appears damning. And why did he go by the nickname “Coon Man” and how many times did he don blackface atop the time he admits to dressing up as Michael Jackson? Straight answers do not seem forthcoming. People endorsing infanticide, it turns out, falter in other ethical areas.
Imposing present standards upon past conduct begins the slippery slope. What becomes of the party’s veneration of Woodrow Wilson, and the name of the segregationist, Birth of a Nation enthusiast appearing on bridges, buildings, and institutions? Do Democrats quit celebrating Jefferson-Jackson Day as their birthday? Where does this put Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, who used the “n” word, regarded aboriginal Australians as “a step higher than the chimpanzee in brain development,” and addressed a KKK gathering, in the pantheon of progressive saints?
In this case, Northam sees hope. Progressive pardoners granted absolution for Sanger’s fondness for Klansmen and concentration camps for the paid indulgences of her procurement of abortions and eventual open advocacy of the procedure at a time when people regarded it as revolting as they now regard blackface. Northam, whose enthusiasm for the post-birth abortion goes beyond Sanger’s stated positions on pregnancy terminations, surely believes his political salvation lies in infanticide. In abortion, all sins are forgiven.