CNN reports:

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell chided Rick Santorum on Monday for expressing concerns about women serving in military combat roles. . .

“I like Rick Santorum a lot, I just disagree with any inference he might have made that somehow women are incapable of serving in the front lines and serving in combat positions,” McDonnell said in an interview Monday with CNN’s Kyra Phillips.

“And I base that in part on my own daughter’s own experience as a platoon leader in Iraq with 25 men working with her,” he continued. “She did a great job, as in some very risky situations, and yet endured and led and I’m proud of her. So, I just wanted to make sure people didn’t think that women aren’t capable of doing the job. And I’ve got firsthand experience in saying that.”

McDonnell made similar remarks in his address to the Conservative Political Action Conference last weekend, saying that his daughter commanded 25 men in her Army platoon and encountered small arms fire in Iraq.

“Yes, I did get emotional, but she didn’t,” McDonnell told the CPAC crowd of his daughter’s experience. “She got the job done.”

Ramesh Ponnuru says (at least his headline does) that this puts McDonnell to the left of President Obama. But that’s wrong. The Pentagon is recommending incremental expansion of military combat positions for women. That was the issue that provoked Santorum’s comment. There is no indication that Obama disagrees with the Pentagon’s recommendation. To put it differently, Santorum is rejecting the recommendation of our military commanders.

But that’s not really what this issue is about, I would suggest. Santorum clarified over the weekend that his concern about women in combat was based on the concern that men would feel overly protective of women on the front lines. But McDonnell’s daughter seems to suggest that is a non-issue.

Moreover — and this is what has been troubling — why should women be denied positions because of men’s alleged emotions? That was frankly the excuse for keeping women out of many professions, namely that men would be embarrassed or distracted or uncomfortable. Under Santorum’s reasoning, women shouldn’t be police officers or firefighters.

Santorum, interpreting his book “It Takes a Family,” has said he’s all about affirming women’s choices. So if the military is recommending this step, and women have served successfully in combat roles previously open to them, what’s the problem?

This, I think, is one of those time-lag issues that we see in presidential races. Whether on gender roles or on gay marriage, the country as a whole, including Republicans, is shifting. But presidential candidates tend to be a generation (or two) beyond the millennial generation and therefore reflect where the party has been on many social issues, not where it is going. Does anyone believe that we are going to stop and reverse the progress of women moving into combat roles in the military? It’s almost as nonsensical as arguing that after going through the task of retraining and adapting to the abolition of “don’t ask, don’t tell” that we would turn around, root out gays already serving and reverse recruiting and other practices. At some point ideology collides with reality.