Just after he entered office, McDonnell got into a political scrap by somehow forgetting to mention slavery when he proclaimed Confederate History Month. More recently, he’s been broadsided by the speed and passion with which newly-elected social conservatives have dominated the General Assembly with a host of divisive bills such as ones requiring transvaginal ultrasound exams before abortions, opening the way for authorities to target people who look foreign and rescinding limits on monthly handgun purchases.
When national humor shows zeroed in on the abortion bill mayhem and quickly deconstructed McDonnell’s carefully crafted plans to re-image himself as a moderate, and not a social conservative, the governor back-pedaled on the bills and blamed the media.
One would think that he had finally gotten the message. To quote Saturday Night Live, which mocked the abortion bills, “But nooooo!”
On March 3, what should have been a peaceful protest against the abortion bills on the grounds of the Virginia Capitol Building quickly turned into a fiasco. About a thousand protestors, some young girls or women in their seventies, were met that Saturday afternoon by State Capitol Police and Virginia State Police in riot gear, facemasks, machine pistols, nightsticks, pepper spray and shin pads that made them look like fearsome Michelin Men.
The protestors had a permit to demonstrate on one part of the lawn. Most dispersed when so ordered. But about 30 or so moved to the steps in front of Thomas Jefferson’s lovely building and locked arms. The signal was given. The Michelin Men moved in. The 30 were carried away to nearby buses for arrest processing.
That’s when the comedy really got underway. Tucker Martin, McDonnell’s press secretary, went on local television to say that the governor has nothing to do with security on Capitol Hill. McDonnell and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling said that Democratic politicians critical of the police behavior should apologize to law enforcement. McDonnell, meanwhile, has been giving interviews to friendly news outlets such as the National Review tut-tutting about media bias.
Regardless of whether he was personally involved in calling in the police, tone-deaf McDonnell should realize that bringing on SWAT teams plays against free speech — and himself politically. He should be encouraging people to enjoy their rights to free speech. Videos of Goon Squads manhandling women is a sure way to win Virginia even more national scorn. What occurred on the Capitol grounds that day was democracy in action — something apparently new to Robert F. McDonnell.