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Virginia’s Northam shouldn’t be vilified

Politics is not brain surgery; it’s not that complicated. Politics is about addition, not subtraction. Show me a political party that is openly seeking and welcoming “converts” to its side and is finding common ground and I’ll show you a growing, healthy and, yes, winning political party. By contrast, a political party that is dedicated to hunting down and banishing from its ranks to the outer darkness any “heretics” who dare to deviate in the slightest from revealed dogma is guaranteeing for itself two results: ideological purity and electoral defeat. In February 2019, the Democratic Party, especially in the commonwealth of Virginia, has politically organized a firing squad by first forming a circle.

Sunday morning in America is the nation’s most segregated time of the week. That’s when many of us go to churches where, sadly, the worshippers are almost all of the same race. The white Democratic governor of Virginia is different. He belongs to the First Baptist Church of Capeville, which has both a black pastor, the Rev. Kelvin Jones, and a predominantly black membership. Fifteen months ago, when Ralph Northam won the governorship by the Democrats’ largest margin since President Ronald Reagan’s first term, he did so with the support and endorsement of every African-American lawmaker in the state and while daring to call for universal background checks for gun purchases and openly embracing his “F” rating from the NRA, which spent more than $1 million on TV attack ads and direct mail hit pieces to beat him.

The Washington Post called Northam’s election “a victory of decency, civility and moderation over fear, dread and barely veiled racist coding” in which Virginia voters “rejected President Trump’s tawdry, tasteless, taunting brand of politics.” Today that same Washington Post demands that Gov. Northam — who has already won legislative passage of his campaign pledge to provide health care, through Medicaid expansion, to 400,000 low-income citizens (Virginians, let it be noted, who cannot reciprocate by purchasing a table at a political fundraising dinner) — resign and vacate his office.

For 18 years, Northam, a pediatric neurologist, volunteered as the medical director of the children’s hospice in Portsmouth, and as an Army doctor treating Gulf War casualties for eight years, he saw the suffering and destruction assault weapons can inflict on humans. What heinous thing has caused many people to insist that the governor must vacate the premises? The circulation of his page in his 1984 med school yearbook, which features a picture of a man in blackface grinning next to a man in full Ku Klux Klan regalia. It was, by any measure, hurtful, offensive and cruel. Northam apologized for the photo. Then he later clumsily asserted in a news conference that it was not he in the photo, but he said he had once “darkened” his face to imitate Michael Jackson in an Army dance contest.

Ignoring this man’s lifetime of public service and commitment to racial justice, Virginia’s Democratic senators, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, joined nine of the announced and unannounced presidential candidates of the party and led a bloodthirsty pack of lockstep Democratic and media vigilantes — including Northam’s immediate predecessor as Virginia governor, Terry McAuliffe, who personally knows better — in demanding the political equivalent of capital punishment. Forget three strikes and you’re out. The new rule for the ideologically pure, heretic-executing Democrats is one called strike — 35 years ago — and you’re damned.

Ralph Northam is no plaster saint. He is a public servant and not, he would readily agree, a perfect servant. But Northam’s denigrators sanctimoniously calling for his political execution are practicing the kind of vindictive, mean-spirited, unforgiving politics that will, by burning political “heretics” who once sinned, improve Donald Trump’s prospects for re-election, if not ensure his victory.

Editor’s note: To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.