It’s hard to know whether the dirty bomb the Washington Post detonated two months before the Virginia gubernatorial election will affect the outcome of the race. The Post dropped it August 30, instead of October 10 or 15, when it would have done maximum damage to its target, Republican Bob McDonnell. Other issues, such as the national healthcare debate, may ultimately help McDonnell’s opponent, Democrat Creigh Deeds. As Chronicles goes to press, the election is four weeks away.
The device that exploded outside McDonnell’s campaign door was his master’s thesis, written for Pat Robertson’s Regent University in 1989, when the former attorney general of Virginia was just 34 years old and still two years away from holding elected office. McDonnell himself mentioned the thesis in an interview with the paper. The reporter, Amy Gardner, dutifully procured a copy and wrote a story calculated to demolish the candidate—a typical Post operation.
The upshot of the thesis is this: Feminism, homosexuals, and leftist welfare policies are bad for American culture, in general, and the American family, in particular, and politicians should enact policies, such as tax laws that encourage mothers to stay at home, that counteract these bad things. According to the Post, “Robert F. McDonnell submitted a master’s thesis to the evangelical school he was attending in Virginia Beach in which he described working women and feminists as ‘detrimental’ to the family. He said government policy should favor married couples over ‘cohabitators, homosexuals or fornicators.’ He described as ‘illogical’ a 1972 Supreme Court decision legalizing the use of contraception by unmarried couples.”
The Post did not cotton to McDonnell’s suggestion that separation of church and state was “intended to prevent government encroachment upon the free church, not eliminate the impact of religion on society.” Gardner fretted, “he criticized federal tax credits for child care expenditures because they encouraged women to enter the workforce.”
In his thesis, McDonnell wrote, “Further [government child care] expenditures would be used to subsidize a dynamic new trend of working women and feminists that is ultimately detrimental to the family by entrenching status-quo of nonparental primary nurture of children.” Even worse, Gardner reported, wiping her fevered brow, “[h]e went on to say feminism is among the ‘real enemies of the traditional family.’”
You can imagine the ensuing pandemonium. The left went cuckoo. As the Post reported in its Day Two follow-up, “[t]he story quickly spread on liberal blogs, including Daily Kos, Talking Points Memo and the Huffington Post. By late afternoon, more than 70 blogs had picked up the thread.” McDonnell’s opponent, state senator Creigh Deeds, a dopey, irascible fellow, had a club with which to beat the GOP candidate for the remainder of the campaign.
McDonnell immediately began damage control, first by trying to disassociate himself from clearly unacceptable views. Responding to the first Post story, McDonnell said he is “fully supportive of the tremendous contributions women make in the workplace. My wife and daughters work. My campaign manager in 2005 was a working mother. I appointed five women to my senior staff as Attorney General.” In other words, he got religion. Before the second story appeared, McDonnell conducted an unprecedented 90-minute conference call with reporters to reiterate that he had hung up the club, doffed the bearskin, and moved out of the cave.
It didn’t help. Within a week, McDonnell was painted as a Neanderthal misogynist and “homophobe” who wants back-alley abortions and women barefoot, pregnant, and tethered to the Frigidaire. All because the Washington Post conducted a classic newspaper operation: “The Virginia governor’s race ignited Monday,” it amusingly reported in its second story, as if some other arsonist had set the blaze. It’s a typical tactic to generate readership: Start the fire, then report on it.
Oddly, the Post missed two of McDonnell’s best lines: “Democrats are likely to redefine family in a way that labels what was once deviant as acceptable,” and they “seek to shepherd a nation of powerless incompetents.” That pretty much describes the party of abortion and deviant sex, and you have to wonder why the Post reporter didn’t pick up on it.
The most disappointing thing about all of this was McDonnell’s hasty retreat—typical of the GOP. Some observers argued that he had to “distance himself” from his thesis just enough to satisfy “women” but not so much as to dissatisfy his “conservative base.” He should have stood firm for a simple reason: Whatever blame McDonnell laid at the door of feminism and homosexuals for the family’s problems, he did not say women should not work or that homosexuals should be subject to discrimination.
The thesis strongly implied, and McDonnell obviously believed, that mothers should not work because having a mother at home with her children is the ideal way to rear them. And he was right. Nothing is wrong with or particularly controversial about that view, or even the view that married women should not work outside the home. Millions of Americans agree, although few of them likely work at the Post. Even so, McDonnell didn’t go near the subject of working women. What he should have emphasized in his own defense was this: Not one of the 15 policy recommendations at the end of the thesis says or even implies anything of the sort. Indeed, he suggests tax incentives to persuade businesses to adopt parental-leave policies that “allow lengthy position-protected leaves.” Those, of course, would mostly benefit women. The Post conveniently ignored this important fact, just as it ignored the other “real enemies of the traditional family” McDonnell was rightly worried about: lust, selfishness, materialism, and irresponsibility. The Post put McDonnell’s reputedly “sexist” and “homophobic” observations front and center and ignored the others to harm the candidate.
The thesis is no literary masterpiece, but it is a temperate, even bland scholarly work containing boilerplate conservatism. It says nothing that conservatives haven’t been saying since the original Ugly Betty got tired of the ironing. “Where there are strong families, the freedom of the individual expands and the reach of the state contracts. Where family life weakens and fails, government advances, intrudes, and ultimately compels.” There, McDonnell was citing a Reagan-era White House “working group on the family.” “There is nothing so devastating to the American family as divorce,” McDonnell added. He wrote about teen pregnancy, public schools promoting humanism, and quoted Allan Carlson’s work showing that federal tax policy forces mothers into the workplace. In one particularly insightful (though not particularly well-written) passage, McDonnell wrote, “the family as an institution is antecedent to civil government, and hence 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.”
Again, this is standard stuff—nothing original or shocking at all. Indeed, one flaw is that McDonnell contradicts himself. The “central premise of this thesis is that the preservation and strengthening of the traditional family unit by government will, in the long run, substantially eliminate the need for a comprehensive and expensive federal bureaucracy to resolve domestic social problems.” Before that, however, he had written that “Where family life weakens and fails, government advances.” It’s hard to see how government policies brought on by the weakening of the family can be expected to strengthen the family.
Yet if what McDonnell wrote hardly deviates from the standard conservative playbook, why did the thesis generate such bile on the left? Because 20 years have passed since he wrote his thesis, and leftist, anti-Christian ideology is more firmly ensconced in the media, culture, and government. Mothers are going to work, period. Buggery is just another lifestyle. And any words against these developments constitute “hate” and “phobias” that will not be tolerated.
McDonnell’s political fate may hang on this manufactured crisis. But nothing was wrong with his thesis, which ends with this pithy, undeniable truth: “As the family goes, so goes the nation.”