We’ll look back and see this as the week that McDonnell lost the race.

Bob McDonnell HQ can’t be a happy place to work this week.

The governor’s race has been static for a few months now. Sen. Creigh Deeds has been biding his time, waiting for the summer to pass by, his campaign secure in the knowledge that McDonnell’s record is awfully far to the right. Sure, Deeds has the problem of being so centrist that it’s a turn-off to many Democrats, but that will work itself out. As some Democrats see Deeds and McDonnell as birds of a feather, so too do many voters only know the McDonnell of the past few years, the calm, centrist, rational guy. But McDonnell’s got a long, long record in the legislature as being very, very conservative. He’s got brilliant cred among the base, because they know that beneath the veneer is the real Bob McDonnell, the one who was still introducing some awfully conservative legislation as recently as 2003, his second-to-last year in the legislature. (Of the seven bills he introduced, four were about abortion.) That’s not the sort of record that the Deeds campaign had to do much to highlight—it would highlight itself in time. Though they started to get nervous in the past month, and started to raise the issue of abortion, that was nothing next to the totality of McDonnell’s record.

And, of course, McDonnell stuck his foot in his mouth. Actually, it’s more like his entire leg. His 93-page master’s thesis to get his master’s in public policy from the ultra-conservative Regent University—owned and operated by Pat Robertson—takes about the farthest right positions that could be discussed in polite society: criminalizing birth control, prohibiting women from working, establishing laws to punish the gay and the unwed, and enshrining Judeo-Christian law as the law of the United States. The thesis is entitled “The Republican Party’s Vision for the Family: The Compelling Issue of the Decade,” and McDonnell uses it to set forth that very vision.

McDonnell was 34 years old at the time that he wrote it, married, with children, and only a few months away from launching his campaign for the House of Delegates. This was in 1989, not all that long ago, when he was thirteen years removed from getting his undergraduate degree, nine years from his first master’s, he’d already had a career in the military and worked in business management. (Incidentally, his degree wasn’t awarded by Regent University, but from “CBN University.” Yes, he got his master’s from a cable TV network.)

The Deeds campaign didn’t have to dig up this gem—McDonnell volunteered it to the Washington Post in response to a question, telling them, bizarrely, that he “wrote [his] thesis on welfare policy.” (He didn’t.) Amy Gardner simply retrieved a copy from the Regent University library, where it was on file.

McDonnell recently described his 91-page masterwork as a “term paper” in an effort to minimize what, in reality, was the culmination of years of research, drafts, and writing, as anybody who has completed a master’s thesis will attest to. With 171 footnotes and 95 works in the bibliography (he read 2.9 works for every page that he wrote), this was clearly a significant undertaking. There’s even an acknowledgements section, where he thanks his parents for their wisdom, his wife for her “expert clerical support” and “[providing him] with the time to devote to this project.” As this was a master’s thesis, he also acknowledges the assistance of the committee that was convened to guide him through and review his thesis, which included the dean of the college as the chairman of the committee.

Lest there be any doubt to the purpose of this essay, he wraps up the treatise with a “Conclusions and Recommendations” section, in which he provides specific guidance to Republicans about how to act on the theories that he’s put forth in the prior 59 pages. This is where he advises an elimination of the policies brought about by “the bankrupcy of the Great Society vision”—social security, Medicare, Medicaid, the minimum wage, food stamps, etc., one must assume. He declares that “leaders must correct the conventional fokelore about the separation of church and state,” calling on “government at all levels [to] unleash the power of the church” in order to “give the gospel…that is the only solution for the hopeless” (p. 62) such as by government subsidization of churches (“the church can permissibly use federal funds to promote traditional family values,” p. 63.) He calls for a $80B cut in federal spending on “family support services,” and declares that “a taxation system…based on an ability to pay, and awards deductions and distributions based on need, is socialist…” (p. 64). In a statement getting a great deal of exposure, he specifically calls on “every level of government” to “statutorily and procedurally prefer married couples over cohabitators, homosexuals, or fornicators” (p. 65). Though McDonnell concedes that “such thinking may be attacked for lacking political realism in a changing world,” he argues that “it is imperative that government stand firm in support of traditional family values” (p. 65). One of the nastier bits in the thesis, admittedly a low-key one, comes on page 52, where he refers to “lower-income ‘families,'” placing the word “families” in derision quotes, indicating that he doesn’t believe low-income families are, in fact, families at all.

And that’s to say nothing about his fifteen point action plan (on pages 66-68)—those are the bits that you’ve heard the most about: school vouchers, “chipping away” at abortion until it’s illegal even in cases of rape and incest, covenant marriage, etc.

McDonnell’s defense consists of claiming, alternately a) that he has no memory of believing those things b) lashing out at Creigh Deeds for accusing him (which he hadn’t) of believing things that he wrote in great detail about believing and c) that he doesn’t believe any of those things anymore. None of these are really winning tactics.

McDonnell has also tried out the “young and foolish” defense, something that isn’t getting him very far, since no doubt many of the reporters covering this story are significantly younger than McDonnell was at the time. (I spent last weekend at the Society for Professional Journalists‘ conference in Indianapolis, where I learned the the average age of a reporter is approximately 12.) If this tactic works out, I’ll be encouraged—I’ve been blogging continually since the age of seventeen, over which time I’ve changed my mind on the death penalty, global climate change, and universal health care. I’d been thinking I could expect a free pass for anything I’d written prior to my mid-twenties, but it turns out I’ve got a few more years to go yet. Jeff Frederick has a similar lament.

McDonnell is calling the release of his already-public thesis by the Washington Post a “backwards-looking scare tactic”, galled that anybody would think that he’d believe anything now that he believed at the tender age of 34. He says that he now believes that “government should not discriminate based on race or sex or creed or sexual orientation.” Yet as attorney general he opposed Gov. Tim Kaine’s continuance of Gov. Mark Warner’s executive order barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. (Which I witnessed an unintentionally-hilarious hearing about at the legislature back in 2006.) In 2003, while representing Virginia Beach in the House of Delegates, he said that “engaging in anal or oral sex might disqualify a person from being a judge,” in the words of the Daily Press. In 2003 he also introduced a bill establishing covenant marriage, one of the important aspects of his thesis, which he also disavowed. For weeks he’s feigned confusion when Deeds brings up the topic of abortion, but four of the seven bills he introduced in 2004 were on that topic. He opposes Griswold v. Connecticut (pages 7-8), the landmark Supreme Court case that established the right to birth control, and he repeatedly voted in favor of limiting access to birth control (in 2002 and 2003, for instance). I could go on. See the Deeds campaign’s correlation of McDonnell’s thesis to his bills for a more detailed accounting.

The real trouble here for McDonnell is that he cannot meaningfully distance himself from the statements that he made in his thesis. Not only because he has acted upon many of them throughout his political career, but because like any good graduate student, everything that he wrote is well-sourced, firmly backed up, and logically based on the prior statement. He’s very persuasive. For instance, he writes on page nineteen:

The family as an institution existed antecedent to civil government, and hence is not subject to being defined by it. It is in the law of Nature of the created Order that the Creator instituted marriage and family in Eden, where He ordained that “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” Family arises out of this divinely-created covenant of marriage between a man and woman, the terms of which can neither be originally set nor subsequently altered by the parties or the state.

Each step logically follows the prior. So if he no longer believes this—as he claims—then which bit does he no longer believe? Does he believe that government existed prior to family? Does he believe that government may defined what constitutes a family? That God created man in Eden? That God created the covenant of marriage between man and woman? That government cannot overrule God? My guess is that he still believes all of those things, and that there’s not a single step within that logical chain that he’d be willing to disavow.

Likewise his statement about discrimination, on page 34:

If the government at all levels has a duty to uphold the family, then it follows that it has the authority to legitimately discriminate in support of this goal

McDonnell says that he no longer believes that government can discriminate, but that necessitates that he no longer believes that “government at all levels has a duty to uphold the family.” Again, I don’t think there’s any logical step there that he’s going to disavow.

Would McDonnell-as-governor be willing to compromise his beliefs in the face of overwhelming opposition, as Kaine said he’d do—and has done—regarding abortion and the death penalty? “Leadership…does not require giving voters what they want,” McDonnell writes. “[T]he profound wisdom of God’s law for the family will appear as folly to foolish men” (p. 55-56). An enormous chunk of the paper (section 5, “Political Considerations in the Development of Family Policy,” and section 6, “Conclusions and Recommendations”) is dedicated to the idea that half-measures are useless, that any compromise is a form of failure, and that Republicans who do not support an unabashed, full-throated conservatism are doing no good. “While obviously a difficult proposition, Republicans should adhere to the party’s foundational principles even if it is to their own political detriment. Subscribers to need-driven pragmatism should be challenged to make policy decisions reflecting their respect for family liberty” (p. 66).

Not to put too fine a point on it, McDonnell has written a short book explaining the things that he wants to accomplish, he has worked unflaggingly to accomplish them, and now he’s claiming that it’s ludicrous that anybody would believe that he ever supported such things.

So far there’s been no significant effect in McDonnell’s polling numbers. I think that’s to be expected. The fact that he wrote a thesis some years ago doesn’t really interest most voters. But what this does is open the door to discuss his fairly extreme record relative to his promise to deliver just such performance in office. That’s a gift to Democrats. McDonnell has been able to present a counterfeit self to voters during his campaign thus far, mouthing centrist platitudes that are hugely different from his positions in the legislature and as attorney general (and, almost certainly, his beliefs). Now opponents of McDonnell have a wide range of issues on which they can point to his crystal clear statements on that issue and his record to show that he spent decades following the path that he’d established within this thesis, counter to his claims on the topic in question. He’s gone from being on the offense on nearly every issue to being on the defense on nearly every issue, forced to explain how, when, and why he changed his mind on such key, formative issues, the sorts of topics on which most people have their minds made up in their mid 20s.

The Deeds campaign has been premised on this eventuality. Without an opening to make McDonnell’s record a central issue, I don’t see that Deeds could crack 45% in November. I’ve been counting on something like this to happen, but I didn’t expect it to arrive wrapped in a bow, personally packaged by Bob McDonnell.

14 thoughts on “We’ll look back and see this as the week that McDonnell lost the race.”

  1. I’ve known Creigh Deeds for a long time, and he’s getting my vote, but this issue about McDonnell is just as stupid as the Jim Webb anti-woman writings when he taught at the USNA. The Allen race was sinking fast, had no agenda of its own to counter Webb, and desperately grabbed at the “thunder thighs” piece thinking it would help. It didn’t.

    And this won’t, either. I sincerely hope that Creigh smacks around his campaign staff and tells Virginia voters that they have something to vote FOR in Creigh Deeds. Unless they do that, McDonnell is going to win easily.

  2. Outstanding analysis of Bob McDonnell’s world view. If this McDonnell thesis expose doesn’t convince Virginia voters about what is at stake in November, then nothing will. I can’t believe that a majority of Virginians want Bob McDonnell as their next governor.

  3. The kicker is that Bob McDonnell now has four years in statewide office to judge him off of. Even his deeds as Delegate don’t match the rhetoric the Deeds camp is trying to hang him with. Toss in the fact that he has a family with working women and you really start to get a bigger picture of how empty this attack really is.

    This doesn’t sink the McDonnell campaign. This tightens the race, but short of another bomb and Deeds deciding to actually present plans and the like to try and convince folks to vote for him, McDonnell still wins. And even if Deeds does present anything, folks have to believe him.

    Which is even harder given Deeds promising not to make this race about social issues at the VBA debate and then coming after McDonnell on abortion and now this paper. Shroud it in “character” all you want, Deeds is trying to use social issues to radicalize the base instead of offering solutions on issues that matter to Virginians, from transportation to education to jobs and economy.

    For a campaign pushing “deeds not words” there’s an awful lot of focus on words.

  4. I don’t know which part I like better, the part where we’re supposed to be outrageously outraged at a Republican supporting the “traditional family,” etc. or the following:

    Republicans must believe in moral persuasion over compulsion in the family policy areas.” (p. 61)

    Republicans have been wise not to advocate a comprehensive national family policy, as that would reduce to compulsion that which is essentially voluntary. Government has the duty to provide the liberty and opportunity for family health and vitality, but is under no obligation to factually guarantee its success.” (p. 65)

    What exactly are you (and the Deeds campaign) alleging? That McDonnell would institute some sort of right-wing, fascist, evil fantasy world if elected? He clearly stated that the Republicans must lead by example, changing people’s hearts and minds, not our laws.

    I’m not convinced that Deeds’ trying to divide people (and telling people to NOT vote for ‘the other guy’ rather than FOR him) is the right strategy. We’ve had quite enough of that in the past decade or so. I guess that I kind of expected more from Deeds.

  5. Meri: You must have missed the part where Bob McDonnell himself tossed this Thesis to the press.

    If it makes you feel any better Deeds people are wondering why Deeds didn’t bust him for this nonsense in 2005.

    Overall, I’m tired of evangelicals playing the victim, own your prejudices in the public debate and let them be judged by the voters. Or get out of Caesar’s realm.

  6. Taliban Bob’s New Pledge of Allegiance and Ten Theocratic Theses

    I pledge allegiance to the political platform of the Republican Party of the United States and to the Christian Theocracy for which it stands, a theocracy directly founded by the God of the New Testament with liberty and justice for all Republicans.

    The U. S. Constitution is hereby amended to provide that the rights enumerated therein shall be guaranteed only to Republicans on the Godly basis that the “giftedness of Republican philosophy is that it embraces the talents and worth of all [white male] peoples, while Democrats seek to shepherd a nation of powerless incompetents.”

    According to the sacred Ten Theocratic Theses (ca. 1989) of Taliban Bob, the following provisions shall be added that that quaint, outdated section of the Constitution known as the Bill of Rights:

    1. “All man-made law that is in violation of God’s law is invalid.”

    2. ”[T]he rise of modernity and liberalism [having] given America a legacy of relativistic hollowness, homelessness, selfish heartlessness, and the death of God and heroes” requires the disqualification of all Democrats and other extremist political dissenters from participation in the political process.

    3. ”[Public] school-based health clinics [having] dispensed birth control information and products without consent of parents, [presented] values-neutral sex education, and contributed to promiscuity, rather than reducing illegitimacy” and [having] used textbooks and cous with child maintenance awards,” shall be barred. Given that these situations “represent yet further manifestations of a spirit of militant individualism and perversity which is gripping the culture” on the part of women, and given that “the law of marriage and family were formulated in the Christian context of covenant, not purely contract.” only covenant marriages not subject to divorce shall be authorized in the future.

    5. “The Supreme Court [has] embarked on a dualistic path by attempting to create a view of liberty based on radical individualism, while facilitating statist control of select family issues (i. e. right to use contraceptives, allowing abortions and permitting sexual intercourse between unmarried persons),” henceforth, only God-fearing Republicans may be appointed to the federal judiciary.

    6. “In [the] wake of the perverted notion of liberty that each person should be able to live out his sexual life in any way he chooses without interference from the state . . . “every level of government should statutorily and procedurally prefer married couples over cohabitors, homosexuals, or fornicators.”

    7. “A dynamic new trend of working women and feminists . . . is ultimately detrimental to the family by entrenching a status-quo of non-parental primary nuture of children.” Women, as the lawful property of their fathers or husbands under biblical law, are divinely destined to be kept in a perpetual state of barefootness and pregnancy.

    8. “The American landscape of the traditional family and its moral code [has] been marred by social permissiveness and government programs,” henceforth, “no federal money shall be used for welfare, public education, or other social and economic programs; the needy may be left to starve unless the private sector elects to intervene. However, where state funds are used to serve the needy, such funds shall be provided as vouchers to be distributed through evangelical Christian churches.

    9. “Family arises out of this divinely-created [originating in Eden] covenant marriage between a man and a woman, the terms of which can neither be originally set nor subsequently altered by the parties or the state . . . . There is no requirement that government promulgate policies that treat lifestyle living arrangements equally with the preferred traditional family . . . . Recognizing the problems and the need for the restoration of values and family stability, a model view of [the] family in society will be proposed . . . and the Republican Party [will] effectuate the model.”

    10. “In addition to the family and the individuals who comprise them, God has ordained the institutions of civil government and the church . . . ; it is these three which have sovereign spheres of jurisdiction in which to exercise authority delegated by God. . . . Government authority is restrained by limited delegation of power from God. . . .”

  7. Issues change. Governmental leaders face challenges and decisions that weren’t anticipated. So, it’s important to know just what a candidate’s core beliefs are. It would seem to be incumbent upon Mr. McDonnell to explain to the voters just what he really believes about the role of government and its relationship to families and religion. If his beliefs have evolved over time, what’s been the basis of those changes? What has he learned over time? Are there situations where he would makes decisions or take actions that override his core beliefs in the service of the public? When? Why?

    By the way, these same questions ought to be posed to Senator Deeds, as well. It’s just that Mr. McDonnell has already provided such a well-thought manifesto, as a starter.

  8. More recently wasn’t there a vote by McDonnell ( ’01) against equity in pay? That’s not something that should be overlooked.

  9. Most of what you say is true, but I question the “biding his time” explanation of Creigh Deeds almost complete lack of activity.

    Deeds skipped the Watermelon Festival in Richmond, an event that draws 100,000+, and then showed up a week later at a tiny neighborhood festival that drew perhaps 200 without any prior publicity. He didn’t even bother to have a booth at the Watermelon festival to give away yard signs. He hasn’t been back to Richmond since.

    His next appearance in Richmond is this Tuesday, but you have to pay $100 and show up in business attire to attend. Given that most of Richmond is still in business casual for summer, I predict that Deeds gets a tiny, tiny crowd on Tuesday.

    I have seen a grand total of two Deeds yard signs in all of Richmond, one on a public median and another on the lawn of a vacant building that is up for rent.

    In contrast, McDonnell signs are everywhere. Often there are two or three or more Republican yard signs in a single yard.

    Deeds is being outworked and out hustled. Deeds setting up his main HQ, sixty miles from the nearest significant urban area, is just silly.

    Barring a major change in energy and strategy, Deeds will lose, despite McDonnell’s complete unfitness. Right now it’s not about who is the better man, it’s about who is running the better campaign, and Bob McDonnell is crushing a largely supine Creigh Deeds.

  10. Very compelling piece, Waldo. So, did Cuccinelli ever write a thesis? What I’d recommend the Deeds people to do is make some kind of chart showing the various issues that each candidate sponsored while in the GA AND the % of co-sponsors from the other party. I think it would clearly show what was important to each candidate and whether they attempted to work across the aisle.

    On another matter, I guess it is important but I’m dubious about how many votes are changed when a candidate goes to big events such as the Watermelon Festival and shakes hands and says “I’m so and so, and I’m running for Governor”.

    Actually, its pretty mysterious to me how people come to their conclusion about who to vote for. Do they really vote for someone because they see more bumperstickers or yard signs?

  11. robert legge: I think there is something to be said for name recognition. The more that people see a name…

Comments are closed.