Report: Northam tells staff it can’t be him in yearbook photo because his left hand is dominant

Report: Northam tells staff it can’t be him in yearbook photo because his left hand is dominant
Northam signs state budget in 2018. Gov. Ralph Northam office video

One must always be careful of reporting that comes from BuzzFeed, so consider that warning issued at the outset.

According to BuzzFeed, embattled Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has been telling his staff that he can’t be one of the men in the notorious photo in his 1984 medical school yearbook, because they’re holding beers in their right hands.

Image via Virginian-Pilot

Here is the complete passage:

Northam is still struggling to convince those around him that he should be able to complete his term in office, and that he was not in fact in the yearbook picture.

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His chief argument as he has huddled with advisers and staff that he was not: The people in the picture were holding beers in their right hands.

That stuck Northam as odd, a source close to his office said. In medical school, Northam told advisers, he’d been so awkward with his right hand that he had to force himself to hold the scalpel with it. His left hand was his dominant hand, and indeed, the hand with which he was holding a beer in the picture of him alone in a cowboy hat — next to one that could yet alter the course of his political career.

Now, the point about handedness is not nonsensical.  It was actually likely in 1984 that a left-handed medical student would have had to try to train with instruments designed for right-handed users.  Medical professionals still deliberate the problem today, as you can see, for example, at this blog (or run searches of your own).  So it’s not that the reference to left-handedness and using a scalpel is necessarily absurd.

But it doesn’t seem to fit with other facts about Northam.  For one thing, he’s been signing bills as governor with his right hand.

Northam signs foster care bill. WTVR 6 CBS video
Northam signs public safety bills in 2018. WSLS 10 NBC video
Northam signs human trafficking bill in 2018. video, YouTube
Northam signs state budget in 2018. Gov. Ralph Northam office video

For another thing, Northam is not a board-certified surgeon, according to the information on his professional credentialsNot having to keep that exacting certification suggests he wouldn’t have had to retrain himself to operate right-handed for a reason related to his medical career.

It isn’t clear why he writes with his right hand, if his left hand is so dominant that he’d be surprised to find a beer in his right.  If Northam has been writing with his right hand since childhood, in spite of naturally favoring his left, the simple act of holding a beer with his weak hand would seem to be even less of a challenge than trying to use a scalpel.  Right-handed people are notoriously less facile with their non-dominant hand than left-handed people, but few righties would find it odd to have a beer in their left hand.

This comes off as special pleading for a weak, exotic explanation, much like Northam’s earlier case that he’d remember it if he were the guy in black-face in the photo, because he wore black-face that same year to imitate Michael Jackson in a dance contest.

The bottom line seems to be that Northam has no intention of resigning. The calls for him to resign over an old yearbook photo may well be overblown.  That’s a good topic for debate.  In the meantime, if Northam keeps feeling the need to offer more explanations, there’s no telling what we’ll hear next.

LU Staff

LU Staff

Promoting and defending liberty, as defined by the nation’s founders, requires both facts and philosophical thought, transcending all elements of our culture, from partisan politics to social issues, the workings of government, and entertainment and off-duty interests. Liberty Unyielding is committed to bringing together voices that will fuel the flame of liberty, with a dialogue that is lively and informative.


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