In politics, as in life, there are weeks that simply take your breath away. Weeks where things move so quickly, and with such unexpected force, that it feels like the laws of physics have been suspended, and that time is suddenly moving at twice its normal speed.
So it was last week, when the political ground—both in Virginia and nationwide—shifted so dramatically that we half-expected Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to helicopter in and start rescuing politicians who couldn’t figure out which way to pander.
It began in the aftermath of tragedy, with the nation still in shock and mourning for the nine black South Carolinians who had been killed while attending bible study by a racist scumbag named Dylann Roof. The days following that massacre followed a predictable pattern, with gun control proponents demanding greater restrictions on firearms, and pro-gun commentators lamenting the fact that none of the victims had been armed, and able to return fire.
In fact, failed Virginia political candidate (and frequent Fox News contributor) E.W. Jackson went even further, telling radio host John Fredericks that the Charleston shooting was perhaps not “some sort of racial hate crime,” but a result of the “growing hostility and antipathy to Christianity and… the biblical worldview about sexual morality and other things.”
But then things started to move in an unexpected direction. As Roof’s white-supremacist past became incontrovertible, calls for South Carolina to remove the Civil War-era Confederate battle flag from the state capitol grounds began to gain steam. And while some people continued to defend the flag (including former U.S. senator and current presidential aspirant Jim Webb, who published a bizarre pro-flag Facebook post in which he noted that “honorable Americans fought on both sides in the Civil War, including slaveholders in the Union Army”), they were few and far between.
And then South Carolina’s Governor Nikki Haley publically called for the flag’s removal, and all bets were off. A slew of retailers, including Amazon, Walmart, eBay and Sears, announced that they would no longer sell the flag, and Governor Terry McAuliffe followed suit by ordering the image stricken from Virginia’s Sons of Confederate Veterans vanity plates.
The Republican response was surprisingly muted, with the General Assembly leadership declining to defend the plates, and even state senator Dick Black—who as a delegate had submitted legislation to allow the flag-bedecked plates—refusing to comment on McAuliffe’s actions.
Then, on Thursday and Friday, the Supreme Court delivered a one-two punch, first slapping down a lawsuit filed by four Virginians that would have basically destroyed Obamacare, and then issuing a ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states.
You could feel the wind being knocked out of Republicans everywhere, and many elephants lashed out in disbelief. Delegate Bob Marshall, the original sponsor of Virginia’s anti-marriage-equality constitutional amendment, spoke for many when he tweeted furiously: “The court cannot rewrite the laws of nature and nature’s God.”
But U.S. Representative Bobby Scott, who had begun the week lamenting the horrific act of violence in South Carolina, captured the zeitgeist perfectly when he compared the court’s decision to Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 case that had legalized interracial marriage. “The Loving court unanimously stated marriage is one of the ‘basic civil rights of man,’” he said. “And today’s decision ensures that this basic right is now available to all same-sex couples no matter where they reside in our nation.”
And so ended one of the most amazing weeks in politics we’ve seen in quite a while.
Odd Dominion is an unabashedly liberal, twice-monthly op-ed column covering Virginia politics.