Is Bob McDonnell Bad For Women?

BlogHer Original Post

Okay, that's an incendiary headline, isn't it? I'm not one to enter the circular firing squad on Republicans (okay, so yes, I am, but not fresh-out-of-the-box governors who are serving as a bellweather for the Democratic agenda's chances in 2010), but there are certain issues on which I feel, as a libertarian feminist, on which I have to seek clarification, the question of whether a certain candidate actively works against the interest of women being one of them.

So when I got an email from the National Organization of Women accusing Governor-elect McDonnell of saying this:

[The] " dynamic new trend of working women and feminists ... is ultimately detrimental to the family."

naturally I was concerned. Sure, I'm not always ideologically in line with NOW, but I'm not always presented with a situation wherein a politician actually states, for the record, that he's opposed to women working outside the home. NOW's mission is to preserve and promote the rights of women, and they need the support of their members (active and financial) to continue to pursue their goals, and generally speaking, Republicans are a huge roadblock to those goals. They show up and they start snooping in your bedroom, around your gay marriage and your reproductive rights. Note the use of the term "feminist" as a pejorative. Its so classic, so stereotypical, so I had to investigate.

Bob McDonnell appears to have made a pretty strong a paper he wrote about the current Republican Party platform for a policy class 20 years ago. From a September column by Ruth Marcus in the Washington Post, which called McDonnell's statements his "Macaca Moment:"

Bob McDonnell, the Republican candidate for governor of Virginia, didn't really mean it when he equated homosexuality with drug abuse and pornography as evils that "the government must restrain, punish, and deter."...Or when he described "feminism" as one of the "real enemies of the traditional family" and criticized federal child-care programs because they "subsidize a dynamic new trend of working women and feminists that is ultimately detrimental to the family."

Or if he did mean it, he doesn't any longer. When he wrote his thesis on "The Republican Party's Vision for the Family," McDonnell, you see, was a "college student at the time, albeit a little older college student, within an academic environment and completely not restrained by the real policy world."

The paper was written in 1989 when McDonnell was a 34 year old student who had already earned a Bachelor's and Master's degree and was working on a joint law/public policy degree. He had already served in the Army and was currently serving an internship in the US House of Republican Policy Committee. So its not like it was his first time around the block. McDonnell brough the report up himself in an interview with the WaPo's Amy Gardner.

But here's the thing. The paper wasn't a 93-page blog post, stuffed to the gills with McDonnell's personal beliefs. He wasn't writing about what he had on his agenda, but rather what the Republican Party had on its agenda for the American family in 1989. Sadly enough, 20 years ago, it was acceptable to call co-habitating couples "fornicators" and warn of the dangers of gays getting the idea in their heads that they might like to have legally-recognized relationships. And while we can argue until we're blue about the propriety of such beliefs - and whether they've evolved over the last 20 years even in the public realm - that they were on the Republican agenda at the end of the Reagan era is without question. Pornography and drugs were bad (I'm pretty sure this is still the GOP position), Griswold v. Connecticut is still a case that introduces substantive due process and the right to privacy, which radically changed how the government viewed liberties and the laws that infringe on them, and the existence of federally funded childcare programs could snowball into (OMG!) children being raised by the collective and not their parents, I guess.

Hey, I didn't say the positions were good positions or that make sense. But they were the GOP's in 1989. And that last part? That's what Bob McDonnell was referring to - its clear when you put the quote back into context.

“Further 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,”

Virginia Gubernatorial Candidate Bob McDonnell Holds Women's Rally

Okay, I'm still not feeling that "feminist" invective (really? federal child care = working women = nonparental primary care is the norm?), but the clouds are parting here. And McDonnell spent 90 minutes on the phone with reporters trying to part them further (from National Review):

The controversy over McDonnell’s thesis, with its inflammatory language about working women, risked destroying all this effort. But McDonnell handled it deftly. He spent 90 minutes on a conference call with reporters exhausting every possible question about the thesis. Then, the next day, when he was asked about it again at an education event, he said he’d answered all the thesis questions the day before and wanted to keep the campaign on the here and now.

McDonnell, who is generally recognized now as a "pragmatic conservative" who champions a traditionally conservative agenda along with innovative fiscal policy, also says that nowadays, he doesn't feel this way. That was 20 years ago, he maintains, and he's had daughters grow up and enter the working world, and political realities and a moderating culture have probably had an effect on his opinions, even if they did fall in line with the hard GOP in the late 80s.

Now, if only he'd voted with NOW on some key issues like federal child care and federally-mandated equal pay laws? Yeah, he didn't. As Arianna of points out:

[Ruth] Marcus wasn’t the only woman who was skeptical of McDonnell’s defense that he was just a kid (at 34), and that hey, he loves working women now. Why, his wife and daughters even work!

What undermines McDonnell’s defense? His actual votes against two...issues, child care and equal pay for women.

McDonnell countered these attacks with his own ad, entitled “Trust” featuring women he himself employed when he was Attorney General. He is also airing another ad, featuring his daughter, and Iraq war vet, called “Working Woman.”

Even this doesn't get my blood boiling. I'm not a fan of government-funded anything, or government-mandated anything, and federal child care programs are no exception. As a libertarian, I happen to agree with the idea that where it can be done better by the free market (and probably cheaper), it should be. Is federally-funded child care necessary? Maybe, but voting against it doesn't necessarily mean one is "anti-woman," and neither does a vote against a measure that would expand equal pay laws that are already in existence by extending the time and analysis period for lawsuits. As much as it might pain people to admit it, we have a pretty good system in place to fight sexism, and given that companies aren't falling all over themselves to have workplaces full of supposedly-cheaper women in order to maximize profits in a troubled economic time, I'm fairly certain they're at least working a little.

And, to be really honest, these are pretty standard conservative positions. Even if I disagree with them (and him), Bob's allowed to be a social conservative. If the Washington Post crowed about it and he still won independents by almost a 2 to 1 margin, I think most of Virginia might agree with me.

If you're into these laws, then I can see where the Bob McDonnell case, as a whole, might convince you that he was an evil, woman-hating Republican, but I'm just not buying it. Given the context, and the fact that I'd probably vote agains those measures, too, given the chance, I have to say this is a little thin. I'm open to being convinced, though.

I mean, he just looks terrifying.


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