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Don’t equate the political sins of Gillespie and Northam

The Daily Progress Editorial Board’s unnuanced condemnation of campaign tactics on both sides is irresponsible and wrong

<p>The Gillespie campaign approved a mailer that attacks Northam for his positions on Confederate statues and immigration.</p>

The Gillespie campaign approved a mailer that attacks Northam for his positions on Confederate statues and immigration.

The Daily Progress Editorial Board condemned Ralph Northam’s gubernatorial campaign on Friday for circulating a mailer which juxtaposes Ed Gillespie, his opponent, with President Donald Trump and an image of the white supremacist rally on Aug. 11. In the pursuit of “fairness,” the Progress Editorial Board pointed out that it had similarly condemned the Gillespie campaign a month ago, for putting out a mailer that nonsensically linked Northam to illegal immigration and gang violence. The editorial accuses both campaigns of “deliberately stirring up our deepest and most vulnerable fears in a bid for political gain” and concludes by casting “a pox on both their houses.” What is deeply troubling about this editorial is not that it condemns Northam, but that it bends over backwards to equate the strategy of the two campaigns, putting forth a depiction of the race in which both candidates are equally guilty of political sin. While Northam’s mailer may have played fast and loose with standards of political decency, Gillespie’s campaign is uniquely toxic, and saying that both are equally deserving of scorn is shortsighted and irresponsible. 

In the homestretch of the gubernatorial race, Gillespie has deliberately and overtly pursued a campaign of race-baiting and quasi-demagoguery. This is presumably in an effort to whip up the passions of a Republican base that helped Trump carry the presidential primary in 2016, and catapulted white supremacist Corey Stewart to near victory earlier this year in the gubernatorial primary. Gillespie has consistently tied illegal immigration to gang violence, running ads that prominently display menacing looking hispanic men overlaid with the words “Kill. Rape. Control.” Further, even in the wake of the violence and tragedy this summer, he has impassionately defended Confederate statues, making thinly veiled racist appeals to “history” and “southern heritage.” Gillespie, who is otherwise believed to be a moderate technocrat, has cynically determined that playing to white voters’ racial prejudices and insecurities is the most surefire way to win the election. These opportunistic tactics are unambiguously toxic and deserving of condemnation, which the Progress Editorial Board was right to do. 

Ralph Northam's gubernatorial campaign disseminated a flyer that linked his opponent Ed Gillespie to Donald Trump and the white supremacists who rallied on the lawn in August.

For its part, the Northam campaign has descended into the mud quite aggressively in the closing months of the gubernatorial race. It’s not inherently wrong to say the mailer was dirty, indecent or a step too far. It’s true, the image is distinctly evocative, and has some misleading implications. However, it’s extraordinarily dishonest to say that the mailer is equally contemptible to Gillespie’s race-baiting. 

This is not the first time that the Progress Editorial Board has displayed whataboutism and misleading false equivalencies when it comes to the gubernatorial race. While it might strike them as “fair” to treat the two campaigns as comparably guilty, it comes off as insincere and ridiculous. In pandering to the cheap appeal of impartiality, the Board has nevertheless made a value statement, namely that the real danger posed to communities by white supremacy in all forms is equally invalid as irrational white suburban fears of violent immigrants. In the current political climate, lazily condemning “both sides” is simply not enough. In the future, the Daily Progress Editorial Board, along with other institutions of authority, would do well to treat their analyses with a little more nuance.