As Robert McDonnell watches his gubernatorial campaign crash and burn, every excuse out of his mouth seems only to emphasize the mess he's in. His retrograde masters thesis having gotten him in trouble with the ladies of Virginia in particular, the candidate has launched a panicked defense along the lines of: 1. He doesn't believe much of that crap anymore. 2. It's an old paper--an "academic exercise" no less--that should be ignored in favor of his public record. 3. Even on those issues where he does still feel that way, he would respect existing law. 4. He can't possibly be sexist because his wife and daughters have jobs and he's hired oodles of female campaign workers.
Let's run through this defense piece by piece.
1. The whole changed-my-mind excuse would be more compelling if bits of McDonnell's public record didn't suggest he still pines for some TVLand version of the 1950s where all men were straight, all women were cinch-waisted housefraus, and public school teachers could lead their pupils in enthusiastic prayer for Jesus to smite the sodomites. This may not be the full measure of the legislator, but he's certainly invited the scrutiny.
2. As previously noted, I'm broadly sympathetic to the don't-judge-me-by-old-student-writings excuse, although (also previously noted) the fact that McDonnell was 34 with scads of real-world experience at the time he produced this charming blueprint doesn't put him in the same category as someone who wrote something politically toxic as a wide-eyed, self-satisfied undergrad. To be absolutely fair, I was willing to cut Jim Webb a little slack for that daffy "Women Can't Fight Piece," which, Ruth Marcus reminds us, he penned at age 33. But even if we opt to judge McDonnell wholly on his legislative record, I'm not sure how much that changes the equation given said record.
3. Is it just me, or does the whole Whatever-my-personal-beliefs-I'll-stick-by-the-law excuse--a common evasion in politics--offer little reassurance? Politicians who don't like a particular law have a funny way of finding ways to nibble around the edges of it, even if they're too chicken to assault it head on. (Witness the Bush administration on abortion.) The whole excuse--regardless of which party employs it--just smacks of cowardice combined with shiftiness. I can never shake the image of some leader sitting around plotting ways to undermine a law he doesn't like but never coming clean about his intent.
4. So we're supposed to cheer McDonnell because he didn't chain his daughters to the stove and hasn't made testicles a requirement for serving his campaign? Please. Phyllis Schlafly is also a working gal, but I wouldn't want her in charge of my constitutional rights. And even the most cretinous candidate isn't stupid enough these days to hire all men. McDonnell is now more broad-minded about the women he knows than your average Talib. Super. Where do I sign up?
None of which is to suggest that poor Bob isn't doing his best to cope with this shit storm. And I don't really have any alternative suggestions for him. Keeping his lip zipped doesn't seem like an option, what with Dems in a fedding frenzy, whereas issuing stronger denials and disavowals will only tick off his base.
The man is what he is, and in a couple of months Virginia voters will pass judgment on exactly that.