We much prefer to celebrate good behavior, so next week, we’ll name our annual All-Star team in conjunction with baseball’s All-Star game. But lately there’s been some bad behavior that demands our attention. As with baseball, it’s three strikes and you’re out:
1. Mountain Valley Pipeline protestor. Last week, a Blacksburg man chained himself to an excavator belonging to a pipeline construction crew near Ironto. After six hours, and much chanting by supporters, state police removed him and charged him with two misdemeanors. And how, exactly, did this help stop the pipeline? It didn’t. On the contrary, it actually helped the pipeline in some small, abstract way. How so? In business lingo, it’s the “opportunity cost.” This particular protestor — who does not deserve the personal glory of having his name mentioned here — and all his supporters who showed up to cheer him on could have been doing something else to battle the pipeline. What else could they have been doing? Well, they could have been holding a bake sale. Snicker if you want, but the real fight against the pipeline is going on in the courts. Somebody’s got to pay the lawyers. These protestors could have been out raising money for that. They weren’t. That’s the “opportunity cost” — by spending the day conducting a publicity stunt, they lost the opportunity to do something more productive for their cause.
Many pipeline opponents don’t see it this way at all, of course. They smile at what they euphemistically call “direct action” and think these kinds of protests rally public opinion. They certainly get attention. And perhaps that attention heartens people who are already opposed to the pipeline. But does it do anything to persuade the politicians whose minds they hope to change? Hint: It does not. On the contrary, this kind of foolishness only drives away whatever persuadable politicians might be out there.
Some liken these protests to the civil rights movement. The key difference: The segregation that the civil rights movement protested through civil disobedience was immoral. Are the laws regulating pipelines really immoral? Or are they just producing a result that pipeline opponents don’t like? These protestors got the satisfaction of knowing they did “something,” however futile. They got in the way of the construction crews for a few hours, but their egos really got in the way of their own cause in the long run.
2. Ken Cuccinelli. The former Virginia attorney general is now President Trump’s acting head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Promptly after assuming this position, Cuccinelli demonstrated why he never got elected governor of Virginia. That shocking photo of the Salvadoran man who drowned with his daughter in the Rio Grande? Cuccinelli blamed the drowned man. That’s akin to blaming someone being chased by a bear for running into a bus. It may be technically true but misses the big point. Of course, there are a lot of people missing the big point.
The human tragedies in our southern border are being exacerbated by American policies, of course. But the root problem is not in Washington, it’s in Central America. We now have three failed states within walking distance — El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Until they are “fixed” — somehow made safe for their own people — then, of course, people are going to flee to the safest country they can get to. Wouldn’t you if your family were in danger? Building a wall won’t change the fundamental problems that are causing people to seek safe haven elsewhere. On the contrary, a wall would produce only more images like this one — except then those victims would be washing up on the Gulf Coast. If there’s a wall, migrants would simply take to sea — as they do when trying to flee Africa and the Mideast and take to flimsy craft to get across the Mediterranean. Meanwhile, more lenient asylum policies would get more people to safety, but do nothing to eliminate the civil strife propelling them northward. Our politicians are arguing over the wrong things.
3. Justin Fairfax. Virginia’s lieutenant governor has resigned from his law firm “to focus my attention on serving the people of Virginia.” The timing is curious. In September, Fairfax signed on with Morrison & Foerster, presumably because he needed the money. The lieutenant governorship is a part-time job and pays “only” $36,121; many lieutenant governors have worked part-time on the side, so Fairfax’s move was hardly unusual. In February, though, two women accused Fairfax of sexual assaults — incidents from 2000 and 2004.
The General Assembly hasn’t figured out how to respond, but Morrison & Foerster sure did. Fairfax took what was described as a “voluntary” leave of absence and the firm hired outside counsel to conduct an investigation. That investigation is now done, and so is Fairfax’s time with the firm. Here’s where things get complicated: Everyone assumed the firm was investigating the alleged sexual assaults. Instead, Morrison & Foerster said this week the investigation into Fairfax covered only “his tenure at the firm” — so, September to February — and found no wrongdoing. Now, Fairfax says he has decided to leave anyway.
Does this really add up? Was Fairfax really only going to work from September to July? Maybe this is all on the up-and-up. Maybe the firm found no wrongdoing and Fairfax decided it really was time to move on. But it’s also easy to envision a different scenario: The firm found no wrongdoing; however, it made it clear that, with the two original allegations still unresolved, that it wanted nothing to do with him — and gave him a graceful way out. Realistically, what company is going to hire someone who has been accused of sexual assault? Even if you believe Fairfax’s denials, there’s still a liability question for the employer. The safer option for the law firm is to not employ Fairfax — even though Virginia still does.
The timing is not helpful to Fairfax, which further suggests it’s not voluntary: The General Assembly reconvenes for a special session on Tuesday, called in the wake of the Virginia Beach shootings. But the Republicans who control the General Assembly aren’t bound by the governor’s agenda. They’ve talked before about holding a hearing about Fairfax. They have even more reason to do so now. If this were truly Fairfax’s decision, he should have waited until after that session. The best possible interpretation of this is that Fairfax has just exercised some poor political judgment —much like the pipeline protestor and Cuccinelli, just in different ways.