It amused me on Monday to hear a radio report of a town hall meeting in my Virginia town about the Ralph Northam scandal—once, when a medical student, the governor appears to have condoned the wearing of blackface by white college boys—in which one of the participants claimed to have been “embarrassed to be a Virginian.” I very much doubt that the gentleman would have said such a thing if the guilty governor had been a Republican. You can only be embarrassed by the behavior of others when you are related to them or are otherwise connected in such a way that their behavior reflects on you. What the gentleman must have meant was that he was embarrassed to be a Virginia Democrat, for how can you be embarrassed by someone you regard as other—which is how most Democrats seem to regard Republicans these days?
If Governor Northam had done something he regarded as laudable, would that have made town-hall guy proud to be a Virginian? Only Democrats and those who voted with them would be entitled to share in Northam-glory, but Northam-shame is supposed to touch all Virginians merely because they live in the same state? I certainly don’t feel embarrassed to be a Virginian, even though the governor is also a declared advocate of infanticide. That would make me ashamed to be a Democrat, if I were a Democrat—but then it’s also a big part of the reason I’m not a Democrat. Yet town-hall guy didn’t mention that as any reason for embarrassment, presumably because there are lots of Democrats who are pro-infanticide, but few to none who are pro-blackface.
Governor Northam is caught on the wrong side of the “Overton window,” which is the proprietary name given by friends of the late Mr. Overton to socially respectable opinion at any given historical moment.
Maybe I’ve just grown used to living in a town where a majority of my fellow citizens vote for the pro-infanticide party, either because they’re pro-infanticide themselves or because they don’t think infanticide is any big deal, but it doesn’t embarrass me to have such friends and neighbors. You can’t be scandalized by someone who holds a moral opinion that is so widely shared, just as you can’t, now, not be scandalized by someone who “blacks up” (as they used quaintly to put it), even though it was no big deal as recently as thirty or forty years ago, because literally no one thinks it OK—or at least no one will admit to thinking so.
Governor Northam is caught on the wrong side of what has lately come to be called the “Overton window,” which is the proprietary name given by friends of the late Mr. Overton to socially respectable opinion at any given historical moment. But when you’ve said that, have you said anything interesting about Governor Northam? Isn’t blaming him for blacking up, or condoning it, thirty-five years ago no more than blaming him for not being able to foresee what would be respectable and what wouldn’t thirty-five years in the future? Which of us might not fall foul of the same lack of foresight if we live long enough? You might as well blame poor Dr. Northam for not advocating infanticide when he was a medical student—or when he was an infant himself—though there may be some Democrats who do.
I think they should give the guy a break, not just for his sake but for mine. For I can already feel my fingers slipping, my slender grip weakening on the Overton window of anti-infanticide. For now it is still a respectable, if widely execrated, point of view. But for how much longer? Already, being anti-abortion is no longer respectable in wide swaths of the country. One begins to suspect that it is no longer respectable in the eyes of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, formerly supposed to be pro-life. Chief Justice Roberts cannot be in ignorance that the latter point of view is now enough to get you hounded out of the left-wing and mainstream media. How much longer before even a groveling apology for thought-crime in my past will be insufficient for the most indulgent editor to dare to publish me?
Women have always set the standards for respectability, and now they appear (at least if you read the papers) to have handed that responsibility over to their most militantly feminist faction. Just look at the nominee for a federal judgeship who has been forced to apologize (con grovel) for once having suggested to young women that a little elementary prudence might prevent them from being raped or assaulted. Although no one doubts that this is perfectly true, anyone who dares to say so is, now, immediately placed beyond the pale of respectability. One is reminded of Dr. Dalrymple’s female patient, beaten up by her boyfriend, who jibbed at the doctor’s pointing out that men were generally stronger than women and could beat them up, if they were so disposed, more or less at will. She thought this opinion sexist. It is simply the fact, insisted the doctor.
“It’s sexist,” she hissed back at him, as if facts had nothing to do with the matter. It seemed an eccentric case at the time, but how many there are who appear think as she does today. And who, now, shall say them nay?