- - Wednesday, February 13, 2019

In polite company, the saying goes, one should never discuss sex, politics, race or religion. In the Commonwealth of Virginia, all four topics are roiling the state at the same time. And what hangs in the balance are fateful turns for the major political and cultural movements of the moment.

The home of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry is convulsed in a multi-tiered scandal of such utter unbelievability that if you presented it as a screenplay, you’d be laughed out of Hollywood.

Act One began when Gov. Ralph Northam casually sanctioned the murder of babies born alive after surviving an abortion. The child would be kept “comfortable,” he said, while doctor and parent(s) debated its fate. Day One of new existence or first-degree murder.

No big deal, according to Mr. Northam, who, after the firestorm erupted, doubled down on his position, made even more unconscionable by his day job as a pediatrician. He justifies staying in office by emphasizing his medical background and great “moral compass.”

So much for “First do no harm.” For Mr. Northam, the Hippocratic oath seems to be: “Whatever.”

As if infanticide weren’t horrifying enough, Act Two introduced rank racism to the storyline. Mr. Northam’s medical school yearbook page featured a photograph of a man in blackface and another in a full Ku Klux Klan ensemble. Mr. Northam first apologized for “the decision [he] made to appear as [he] did in this photo.” Within a day, he backtracked, saying that he must have confused posing for that photo with another time he wore blackface for a Michael Jackson dance contest.

Usually, politicians in deep holes stop digging, but not Mr. Northam. And if misery loves company, he has some in the form of the state attorney general, Mark Herring, who has also admitted to wearing blackface years ago. With safety in numbers, Mr. Northam denies being in the photograph at all and pledges to remain on the job.

A recent Washington Post poll gives him good reason: Virginians are evenly split on whether he should step down. Forty-seven percent want him to resign, 47 want him to stay, including 58 percent of African-Americans. He believes he has enough support to hang on, as he says he’s going to spend the rest of his term focused on race equity. He claims to be reading “Roots” and Ta-Nehesi Coates for enlightenment and has announced a racial “listening tour,” all of which smacks of desperate, and frankly offensive, pandering, but seems to be keeping him afloat, at least for now.

This is hugely problematic for the state and national Democratic parties. This year, the Virginia state legislative elections might very well result in a Republican landslide. That won’t be a good look for Democrats heading into presidential primary season. Meanwhile, every Democratic presidential candidate — including the ultimate nominee — will be asked ad nauseam about the blackface/KKK photograph. They all may condemn Mr. Northam and the photo, but both will be kept front and center until election day.

Next: Act Three, featuring the lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax, in his own circle of Hell. Two women have accused him of sexual assault, prompting some to falsely equate the allegations made against Justice Brett Kavanaugh with those made against Mr. Fairfax. The Kavanaugh allegations were uncorroborated and unsubstantiated, and several of the accusers have since fully recanted their stories. In the Fairfax case, both accusers offered detailed accounts of the alleged attacks, with one providing contemporaneous accounts. Both women have indicated a willingness to testify during an impeachment trial if he refuses to resign. But in a spasm of confused intersectionality, black lawmakers slowed possible impeachment in an effort to protect Mr. Fairfax, even at the expense of credible women accusers.

Of course, Mr. Fairfax is entitled to due process, something not afforded to Justice Kavanaugh, but it’s unlikely he can deal with the allegations and govern effectively.

Which brings us to Act Four, still in progress.

Scene one: The Democratic Party must ask itself if it’s willing to sacrifice Virginia in 2020 on the altar of Ralph Northam.

Scene two: It’s doubtful that anyone is prepared to sacrifice the #MeToo movement on the altar of Mr. Fairfax. Other powerful men have gone down in flames over less credible allegations. If Mr. Fairfax were permitted to stay in office, the #MeToo movement would be diluted, open to charges of hypocrisy and perhaps irrevocably crippled. #MeToo advocates cannot allow that to happen, so Mr. Fairfax will likely be thrown overboard.

The Northam, Herring and Fairfax scandals threaten far more than their political careers. They pose big liabilities to the Democratic Party heading into a critical electoral time. And they threaten major cultural movements surrounding race and women. Those things are far more significant than any single Democratic pol.

And so, as they say on “Shark Tank,” “for this reason, they’re out.” It will be an unsurprising, and long-delayed, denouement.

• Monica Crowley is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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