I was hoping that word about this photo of me would never get out, because there’s no doubt that my career would be over if the public knew about it.
But since embarrassing old photos are defining political careers these days, I thought it would only be right to dredge up one that was taken of myself almost 50 years ago. For the record, I sincerely apologize for that photo. It does not represent who I am, or what I stand for.
The photo, which appeared in the 1969 Coeur d’Alene High School yearbook, shows me doing an impersonation of Richard Nixon in the school’s talent show. I haven’t changed much over the last 50 years (yeah, right), so it’s clear that it was me in the photo.
For all these years, that photo has kept me from running for public office. I always thought that political opponents would use that disgraceful photo as evidence of me being a Nixon sympathizer and, therefore, unfit to serve the great people of Coeur d’Alene.
Seriously, folks, the impersonation was awful and it was a very bad attempt at stand-up comedy. The only thing I have to fear is somebody in the Class of ’69 finding a video and showing the darn thing during our 50-year reunion this summer. By the way, I’ve never had the desire to seriously run for public office.
But for some in the higher levels of politics, old photos have a way of destroying careers. People have been hollering for Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s resignation for a 1984 photo that shows a man in black face standing next to someone dressed in Ku Klux Klan garb. The photo probably seemed hilarious to those who were there at the time, but it’s not so funny today. People have concluded that Northam should be booted out of office. It does not matter what he has accomplished as an Army doctor, or in politics.
Last year, former Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota resigned over a 2006 photo that turned out to be a poster child for the “Me Too” movement. Everything he accomplished in life, or as a U.S. senator, became irrelevant and there is no turning back. Last year, Megyn Kelly was fired from the Today Show for suggesting that wearing blackface on Halloween was appropriate.
Recently, a friend circulated a photo showing Senate Majority Mitch McConnell pictured in front of a confederate flag, and my friend was wondering why people were not outraged over that. The implication was that McConnell embraced hatred and slavery by being pictured with the confederate flag.
If politicians from the South were tossed out of office for being pictured with the confederate flag, there would be a lot of empty delegations in Congress. Former Pres. Bill Clinton, who once served as governor of Arkansas, posed with the confederate flag many times during his career. The flag was used prominently in his successful run for the presidency in 1992 as a tool for gaining votes in that region. There’s also an old photo of what appeared to be a young (and smiling) Bill Clinton being pictured with a woman wearing blackface.
My friend told me that Clinton should be given a pass, presumably because of his sterling record for promoting civil rights (and that he’s a Democrat). McConnell cannot be excused because of all his votes on tax laws that favor the rich at the expense of the poor (and, yes, he’s a Republican).
As for myself, I wouldn’t be offended if Clinton and McConnell ran down Pennsylvania Avenue waving confederate flags. I spent seven years living in Pine Bluff, Ark. – long enough to know that there are God-fearing people who view that flag as a source of southern pride. It does not represent some twisted wish to return to slavery.
As for some of the other photos that destroy lives and careers, the morality cops will be watching and high-level politicians will be called on to resign in the name of political correctness.
I don’t blame people for being offended by a 35-year-old photo with racial overtones, but I’d prefer letting the likes of Northam and Franken stand on their records (which include old photos) and leaving it to voters to pass judgment.
Chuck Malloy, a long-time Idaho journalist, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org