By around this time in 2006, Virginia voters, by a slim margin, had lost confidence in Sen. George Allen and even more so in the Bush administration. They therefore were inclined to elect Allen’s Democratic opponent, James Webb. Sensing the problem, the Allen campaign attacked Webb for including pornographic passages in his war novel.
Now, as the 2009 election approaches in Virginia, voters seem to have lost confidence in Democratic governance of the state and thus are inclined to elect the Republican nominee for governor, the mild-mannered Bob McDonnell.
Democratic candidate Creigh Deeds has responded by publicizing a graduate school thesis McDonnell wrote 20 years ago in which, according to the Washington Post, he was critical of working women, homosexuals, and “fornicators.” McDonnell has responded by stating that he has changed his views on some of these issues, including women in the work force.
The Allen campaign’s attack on Webb’s novel fell flat. Allen lost narrowly and there’s no evidence that social conservatives who were thinking about voting for Webb changed their minds based on his pornographic passages. Voters had already formed their opinion of Webb and correctly concluded that his old novel provided no window for further understanding.
McDonnell’s thesis is a bit different because it isn’t fiction and it discusses matters pertaining to public policy. Still, it’s 20 years old, and McDonnell (unlike Webb) has a rich voting record through which voters can judge him. If Virginians want to end the 12-year reign of Democratic governors, it seems unlikely that a 20 year old graduate school thesis will deter them.
But if McDonnell’s thesis falls as an issue, it won’t be due to the Washington Post. Its lead editorial today is called “Bob McDonnell, Culture Warrior — At 34, the GOP candidate disapproved of fornicators, homosexuals and working women.” The Post acknowledges that the thesis is old, that McDonnell has hired women as a candidate and an office holder, and that his own wife works. But it adds:
Nonetheless, in his 14 years in the state’s General Assembly, Mr. McDonnell did aggressively pursue a socially conservative agenda largely in line with his thesis. (emphasis added)
The intellectual dishonesty of this statement should be apparent. The thesis matters poltically not to the extent McDonnell embraced the mainstream socially conservative positions he has subsequently supported, all of which were already issues. It matters (if at all) to the extent he embraced more extreme positions such as opposition to women in the workforce or discrimination against homosexuals, “cohabitators,” and “fornicators.”
The question, then, is not whether McDonnell pursued a socially conservative agenda generally in line with his thesis, but whether he pursued the extreme portions of that agenda.
The Post offers no meaningful evidence that he did. It does note that McDonnell backed Virginia’s constitutional amendment effectively banning same-sex marriages. The Post might consider this position extreme, but I doubt that most Virginians do. Surely, McDonnell is perfectly willing to run based on his support for that amendment.
The most interesting thing about the 1989 thesis may be that Deeds felt the need to release it this early. I have reason to believe that there may be “more where that came from,” but the thesis is probably the most powerful evidence that can be used in an effort to make McDonnell look like a “theocrat,” as well as the easiest for the Deeds campaign to put out there.
I’m not convinced, however, that it’s very powerful.
SCOTT adds: Michael Barone asks if the Washington Post is trying to “macaca” Bob McDonnell. Barone has commenced “a Macaca watch, to list stories which make the front page of the Post not on the basis of news value but solely and obviously to defeat the Republican candidate.” I think the Post editorial discussed by Paul deserves to make it onto Barone’s Macaca watch list even though it’s off the Post’s front page.