Sunday, February 26, 2012

Has Bob McDonnell's Image Been Permanently Damaged?

Running for the office of Governor of Virginia back in 2009, Bob McDonnell - "Taliban Bob" to those of us in Virginia who have followed his career - worked very hard to deny that he still supported much of the batshit crazy things he wrote in his thesis at Pat Robertson's CBN Law School (now Regent University). And Taliban Bob largely succeeded in duping the general public into believing that he still did not take his marching orders from the far right Christofascists at The Family Foundation, Robertson's Regent University and the late Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. Truth be told, however, McDonnell and his agenda had never really changed even though this truth did not become fully clear until this year when the Virginia GOP gained control of the Virginia General Assembly. Without the restraining hand of the formerly Democrat controlled Virginia Senate, McDonnell and the religious extremists who dominate the Virginia GOP were finally free to push forward their Christianist agenda.

Taliban Bob went right along with this far right batshitery and bigotry until something happened: constant national coverage and ridicule that threw much more than cold water on McDonnell's national ambitions. People came to see that Taliban Bob has not converted from his views of years ago in the halls of Pat Robertson's Christianist madrassa. The Richmond Times-Dispatch looks at the fallout and the fact that some political observers believe that McDonnell will not quickly recover from the damage he's done to himself - which is probably a good thing for America. Here are some highlights:

Enjoying high approval ratings in a state with low unemployment, Gov. Bob McDonnell's national profile was on the rise in recent weeks as he traveled the country advocating for his presidential pick, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Last week, however, the 2012 vice presidential prospect's jobs-and-economy message was co-opted by a sudden national focus on a deeply divisive social issue at home.

As Virginia lawmakers waded through a stream of contentious measures, one in particular struck a chord: legislation to mandate that women undergo ultrasounds before an abortion, which in many instances would require a vaginal probe.

Once the details of the measure emerged, they fast became fodder for late-night satire and drew hundreds to protests on the Capitol grounds. Left-leaning MSNBC host Rachel Maddow even touted commemorative vaginal probes that read: "I can see the White House from here!"

McDonnell, who had backed the concept of the legislation, found himself the subject of much of the rancor surrounding the issue.

He's been hurt by it," said University of Virginia political analyst Larry Sabato. "I'm of the theory that most things don't matter, but every now and then, something happens that changes people's perceptions for a lengthy period. We just had it."

Sabato said that dozens of Republican-sponsored bills relating to abortion, guns, gay couples, immigrants and drug testing of welfare recipients have fundamentally changed the way that many people inside — and more importantly for McDonnell, outside — the commonwealth will see him.

"When a presidential nominee is looking for a VP candidate, the very first hurdle is, 'Will this candidate do any harm?' " Sabato said. "Let's say the nominee is Romney, as it almost certainly will be. He's going to say, 'Let's see, do I want to have two weeks of discussion about abortion, gays and other social issues?"

The prudent answer, Sabato suggested, would be no, adding that McDonnell's 1989 master's thesis from Regent University, which raised eyebrows during the 2009 campaign for his views on working women, gays and divorce, would again become a liability.

By week's end, both the Senate and House versions of the bill had been amended to make the invasive ultrasound optional and not mandatory.

While supporting the altered version of the bill may save McDonnell a degree of conservative credibility, Sabato said the damage has been done. And it could have been avoided.

"He should have anticipated this. This is not rocket science," Sabato said.
"Do you mean that his legislative staff and other people could not have analyzed in advance that this avalanche of social legislation might blow up in his face? It's obvious."

Personally, I hope Sabato's assessment is correct and that McDonnell has been permanently damaged. Just maybe McDonnell will learn from this fiasco that he needs to start listening to people outside of The Family Foundation and the most extreme elements of the Virginia GOP who want nothing less than a Christianist theocracy. Bob, I could have told you that you were walking onto quicksand. But sadly, you only seem to listen to people inside the Christianist echo chamber at The Family Foundation.

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