There must be considerable gnashing of teeth in the Virginia Governor’s Mansion. Robert F. McDonnell had been working so hard to distance himself from his social conservative past, notably that nettlesome anti-gay and anti-female graduate thesis of two decades ago.
He had worked hard to remake himself as a reasonable moderate, thus setting himself up for the Big Time, namely a vice presidential slot. Despite setbacks with privatizing state liquor stores and erecting offshore oil platforms, McDonnell has enjoyed strong popularity ratings and has received a fair number of invites to national TV talk shows.
This Republican-dominated General Assembly, however, is helping to destroy a lot of his hard work. His backtracking on the ultrasound abortion fiasco makes him look clueless and dishonest.
Just a few days ago, he was supporting the idea of forcing women to have ultrasound tests, to play on their guilt and shame them about their legal choice to have a legal abortion.
After 1,000 protestors ringed the state capitol and “Saturday Night Live” and “The Daily Show” made hash of the idea, McDonnell was suddenly backing away from the forced ultrasounds. Actually, he was only “sort of” backing away: His statement was a mish-mash of minced words rejecting “transvaginal” ultrasounds while “non-invasive” ones are still okay.
He misses the point. Any form of state-ordered ultrasound test is still a huge violation of women’s rights. The only solution is the veto.
The problem for McDonnell, if he still dreams of a vice presidential slot, is that he can’t have it both ways. He can’t pretend to be a “moderate” conservative while cheerleading extremists. He can’t play to the “right to life” crowd and then halfway slink away from hundreds of mostly female protestors who are outraged that the state would interfere with their privacy and legal rights so blatantly.
This is a disturbing tendency of McDonnell’s. For instance, he proclaims that he’s a modern and responsible conservative who can balance the state’s finances. Then we learn he’s done so by delaying required payments to the state retirement system. Now that his scheme to cheat schools out of state sales tax money for roads is in trouble, he’s quietly considering hiking the very low state gasoline tax. Why doesn’t he just come out and say it?
And why doesn’t he try to actually lead the Republican Party? The hard-right conservatives who got elected to the House of Delegates and have pushed through a flood of nasty laws, including ones targeting gay couples, the foreign born and labor unions, are setting up the GOP for future defeats. Serious work remains undone. Yet we have nice guy Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling circulating his nice little letter requesting party discipline because the Republicans are making themselves look like dysfunctional idiots.
Where is Bob McDonnell?