The classic political game of dig the skeletons out of the closet is back in full force in Virginia’s gubernatorial race. This latest round cites Democrat Creigh Deeds, with the help of the Washington Post, against Republican Bob McDonnell.
This looks eerily familiar to what happened in 2006 during the VA Senate race between Webb and Allen. Webb had written an article in the late 1970s for the Washingtonian on why women shouldn’t be allowed to serve in military combat roles. In it he used derogatory terminology, including saying he had never met a woman he “would trust to provide … combat leadership.” By the way, Webb was serving as a Congressional staffer on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.
Fast forward to today, and the Washington Post has uncovered a thesis written by McDonnell back in 1989 when he was a graduate student. This thesis apparently argues that a traditional role for women in the family is better for society. While I have not read it, I can only assume from my experience in any academic setting that it is likely not derogatory against women in the sense that he probably doesn’t make presumptions about women and their intimate desires for coed military dorms.
Now, let’s compare the opening paragraphs of the two articles written by the Washington Post right after these two written pieces became part of their respective campaigns. First, the article on Webb’s piece:
RICHMOND, Sept. 13 — Virginia’s U.S. Senate race turned nasty Wednesday as Republican Sen. George Allen launched a character attack on his Democratic opponent’s past views toward women in combat, signaling the start of a two-month barrage of negative campaigning in what has become a close race.
Allen, who is fighting for a second term, organized a news conference with five female U.S. Naval Academy graduates who said an article written 27 years ago by Allen’s opponent, James Webb, prompted harassment by male midshipmen at the academy.
In the Washingtonian magazine article, “Women Can’t Fight,” the ex-Marine Webb wrote of the brutal conditions during the Vietnam War and argued against letting women into combat. Allen’s campaign zeroed in on passages in which Webb described one of the academy’s coed dorms as “a horny woman’s dream” and said that he had never met a woman he “would trust to provide . . . combat leadership.”
Now, a look at the Washington Post’s article on the McDonnell piece:
At age 34, two years before his first election and two decades before he would run for governor of Virginia, 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 93-page document, which is publicly available at the Regent University library, culminates with a 15-point action plan that McDonnell said the Republican Party should follow to protect American families — a vision that he started to put into action soon after he was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates.
The article goes on to say how Deeds is standing up for women’s rights against big bad McDonnell.
McDonnell’s opponent, state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (Bath), and other Democrats have sought to highlight McDonnell’s conservative record, saying he is obscuring a large part of his background to get elected. Deeds recently spoke to women’s groups about McDonnell’s record on abortion, saying that voters needed to know about his stances.
How noble! Where was Deeds in 2006 to defend women from Webb’s apparent sexist views?
A couple of other points worth mentioning:
- When Allen raised Webb’s article, the Washington Post described it as a character attack and the start of negative campaigning. Fast forward to this past weekend, and the Washington Post frames their article as investigative journalism on McDonnell’s views. It seems to me that the Washington Post may be starting the negative campaigning and character attacking this time around.
- Look how the McDonnell article starts. The journalist masks the date when the thesis was written. You actually have to do math to figure out McDonnell’s thesis was written in 1989. However, in the Webb article, the Washington Post gives you the date: it was 27 years ago! Also, why does the Washington Post tell you how old McDonnell was when he authored the piece? Does this imply that, at age 34, McDonnell’s views are set now that he’s in his thirties? OK…so how old was Webb when he wrote his Washingtonian article? The Wash Post doesn’t tell us of course…but do a little research and you will find out that Webb was born in 1946…so he was around 32-33 years old too. So I guess Webb was old enough to “know better” and is probably set in his ways too.
- One more thing elaborating on the previous point. The Washington Post frames the time frame of McDonnell’s thesis in terms of McDonnell running for public office, making a clear link between McDonnell’s expressed views and his ability to implement them as a public official. There is no similar link made in the Webb article…again, it’s described as a “character attack.”
Finally, if the Democrats want to claim McDonnell is sexist and a threat to women’s rights, then maybe they should have been more upset about Webb’s article. McDonnell was a graduate student in a graduate program; the university setting is a laboratory for ideas and thought experimentation. I know that I have written many arguments in college that were for the sake of arguing, not always truly believing every thing I argued. The context of McDonnell’s thesis must be factored in. On the other hand, Webb was a Congressional staffer on a committee overseeing military veterans when he wrote his article, and the article was intended for public consumption, so he probably really believed what he was writing at the time. If the Dems have to choose one candidate and one article to be most upset over, maybe they should have chosen Webb’s article back in 2006.