The Politics of Old Opinions

In this goofy political culture, anything any politician ever said or wrote in their entire life is apparently fair game for opposition mudslinging. According to recent reports by the hyperventilating local and national media, you would think that the race for Senator from Virginia is between an avowed racist Republican and an avowed sexist Democrat. I think both characterizations are false and unfair.

In my humble opinion, Senator George Allen (R) is not racist, despite reports that when he was an undergrad football player in the early 1970s he used racial slurs (denied by Allen). Further, I don’t think his opposition—Jim Webb (D)—is sexist, despite the unearthing of a 1979 article he wrote titled ‘Women Can’t Fight’ and condemning the admission of women to the Naval Academy.

What I do think is that we need to stop pretending that people don’t change, and furthermore stop condemning people for actions which are today considered immoral but might have been perfectly acceptable at the time. I personally don’t care if George Allen was racist is the early 1970s or if Jim Webb was sexist in 1979. First off, racism and sexism were commonplace in the 1970s. Second off, Allen and Webb have had thirty years to change their minds—thirty years in which racism and sexism shifted from being mainstream attitudes to being roundly condemned across most societal barriers in this country.

If a man was once racist or sexist, but changes his ways and rejects those attitudes, is he to be forever excluded from political office? I would hope not.

I publish my opinion on this site all the time, but my opinions change. I learn new things, I expand my horizons, I consider new arguments, and sometimes I change my mind. If I’m running for office in thirty years, I would hate to have somebody dig up something I wrote today and condemn me for it. I would want to be judged based on who I am thirty years from now, not who I used to be. We owe both George Allen and Jim Webb—not to mention the rest of the men and women seeking political office this year—the courtesy of judging them based on who they are and what they stand for today, not what they said or wrote when they were thirty years younger and more naive.

Scott Bradford is a writer and technologist who has been putting his opinions online since 1995. He believes in three inviolable human rights: life, liberty, and property. He is a Catholic Christian who worships the trinitarian God described in the Nicene Creed. Scott is a husband, nerd, pet lover, and AMC/Jeep enthusiast with a B.S. degree in public administration from George Mason University.