Thursday, February 18, 2010

Just a Pragmatic, Jobs-and-Transportation Kind of Guy

When Bob McDonnell was running for governor of Virginia, his campaign was pretty careful to play down his Christian Right bona fides and focus on pocketbook issues - namely, the state economy and Virginia's (very serious) transportation problems. Eventually, the opposition got around to exposing his ultra-conservative, borderline-reactionary views on women, homosexuality, and other matters, but it wasn't enough to sway the election. For one, Creigh Deeds, who seemed to think he could run for governor while comatose, couldn't have excited Virginia Democrats if his life depended on it, so he couldn't make much hay out of the outrageous arguments in McDonnell's 1989 master's thesis from Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network University (now called Regent University, because apparently naming a school after a TV station just wasn't resulting in the sort of gravitas universities strive for).

In the thesis, McDonnell (among other things) criticizes feminists for the breakdown of the family, argues that the government should "restrain, punish, and deter" behavior such as homosexuality or the purchase of pornography, and attacks Griswold v. Connecticut. These are the marks of someone who is unapologetically opposed to almost every major social development of the last 60 years - someone whose positions on social issues are well to the right of mainstream America. For example, the Catholic Church is very strongly opposed to birth control, but 96% of married Catholics use it. And a 2004 CBS-NYT poll showed that only 16% of Americans, and only 25% of self-identified Republicans and conservatives, believe that pharmacists should be able to refuse birth control to customers for religious reasons. 78% of Americans said they should not be able to do so -- and that's just the number who believe individual pharmacists shouldn't be able to refuse to sell birth control. Imagine the number of Americans who would oppose a blanket ban - so that instead of being refused contraception by one pharmacist and having to drive to another pharmacy, you weren't allowed to buy contraceptives at all. That was the law in Connecticut before the Supreme Court decision McDonnell criticized. And that, apparently, is what he wants for everyone.

But for the Deeds campaign, it was too late. It's tougher to get people to care about social issues in a recession, and the "Bob's For Jobs!" slogan stuck. Christian conservatives were OK with this; in fact, they were ecstatic about it. Students I interviewed at Patrick Henry College, a small college for home-schooled Christian conservatives, said that the McDonnell campaign was a model for conservative Christians nationwide. One student enthusiastically argued that, "if we follow his lead in 2010," conservative Christians would lead Republicans to victory. Critics of the Christian Right have long claimed that it misleadingly uses "stealth candidates" to win elections - people who masquerade as pragmatic, jobs-focused problem solvers, but are really culture warriors at heart. Christian conservatives argue that they're not hiding anything, and sometimes they even claim that social issues really aren't at the heart of their platform. McDonnell himself, resisting pressure by Deeds into a debate over abortion, said, "I've never made social policy a huge part of my campaigns or a huge part of my agenda."

That's, um, an interesting reading of his legislative record. He introduced bills banning late-term abortion and requiring informed consent for all women seeking abortions. He introduced a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in Virginia. This is more than enough to cast doubt on his claim that social policy has "never" been a huge part of his agenda.

Still, McDonnell promised to be a governor focused on jobs, transportation, and public safety. When pressed on his thesis, he softened his tone. In September, the Washington Post reported that although McDonnell's position against gay marriage hadn't changed, he had come to believe "that discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation or marital status has no place in government or on the job."

Well, that settles that, then. Except for this:

Gay and lesbian state workers in Virginia are no longer specifically protected against discrimination, thanks to a little-noticed change made by new Gov. Bob McDonnell.

McDonnell (R) on Feb. 5 signed an executive order that prohibits discrimination "on the basis of race, sex, color, national origin, religion, age, political affiliation, or against otherwise qualified persons with disabilities," as well as veterans.

It rescinds the order that Gov. Tim Kaine signed Jan. 14, 2006 as one of his first actions. After promising a "fair and inclusive" administration in his inaugural address, Kaine (D) added veterans to the non-discrimination policy - and sexual orientation.

This reminds me of the old story about the turtle and the spider. The spider sees the turtle about to cross a stream, and he says, "Let me ride on your back." The turtle says, "Absolutely not! You'll sting me, and I'll drown!" The spider replies, "I promise, I won't."

Halfway across the stream, the spider stings the turtle, and the turtle begins to drown. As he sinks into the water, the turtle says, "Why did you do that?" The spider replies: "It's my nature."

People who are on a mission from God do not let settled law, public consensus, or campaign promises stand in their way. And anyone who voluntarily associates with Pat Robertson - a vile, hateful bigot who profits from corrupt cooperations with murderous dictators - does not deserved to be considered for dog-catcher, much less governor of a state. McDonnell appeared on the 700 Club with his friend Pat back in 2006. This was seven years after the discovery by a Virginia Pilot reporter that Robertson had misled viewers of his show to donate money for what they thought was Rwandan genocide relief. Robertson diverted a portion of those donations to fund a diamond-mining operation he had initiated with the help of Mobutu Sese Seko, the totalitarian dictator of Zaire who was one of the most corrupt leaders of all time. Robertson also got into the mining business with Charles Taylor, the warlord of Liberia who is currently on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Taylor is accused of funding a civil war in Sierra Leone so he could get access to its diamonds - and it was diamond-mining in Liberia that he and Robertson worked on in 1999. Taylor's brutality in Liberia and Sierra Leone included slavery, mutilation, rape, the use of child soldiers, and the horrific deaths of up to 250,000 people.

This was a guy Pat could do business with! After all, they shared the same religion: the worship of the almighty dollar.

So watch that YouTube clip. It shows the then-attorney general of Virginia, later-candidate and now-governor of Virginia, smiling happily with the founder of his alma mater. As if they were at an ice cream social.

So, call me paranoid, but I was a little suspicious when Bob claimed he was just campaigning on jobs and transportation. Is he a warlord or a conspirator with warlords? No. Has he done anything illegal? No.

I want to be very clear that I don't consider McDonnell to be in any way involved with the despicable acts of Pat Robertson. But I do consider his continued association with Robertson, in light of these revelations, to be a spectacular failure of moral and civic leadership, and a particularly sad example of just who he was willing to embrace in order to win.

Where was the principled stance from McDonnell on breaking with his mentor? Why didn't he refuse to go within 10 miles of the 700 Club?

Because he's a culture warrior at heart, and Pat Robertson is a culture warlord. And you need the base to win. You can get the moderates with your pragmatism, but you can't abandon the base. I'm sorry to hear that LGBTQ workers for the state of Virginia have lost protection against discrimination. But I'm not naive enough to be surprised.

1 comment:

Jonathan said...

Good summary. Thanks for writing it. McDonnell has been to Loudoun County, VA on several occasions. It's been hard to tell if he's a politician or a preacher. His top topics have been anti-gay activism, anti-immigrant activism, anti-liberal activism, and militarism/American exceptionalism.