The Evolving Conservative
Repulsed by a world in which every politician's senior thesis becomes a campaign issue and the occasional kindergarten essay makes it into an attack ad, Kevin Drum proposes the 25/25 rule: "it doesn't count if you did it more than 25 years ago or before your 25th birthday." This would be excellent for me, as nothing I do or say would count for another eight months. Given the odds that I will write something dumb over that period of time, I hereby ask Congress to move on this important legislative priority immediately. My future political viability depends on it.
That said, the subject here is not, in fact, me, but Bob McDonnell, the Virginia Republican who's running for governor and accidentally tipped some intrepid Washington Post reporters off to the existence of his graduate thesis on "welfare policy." Sadly for him, "welfare policy" did not begin to explain it:
He described working women and feminists as "detrimental" to the family. He said government policy should favor married couples over "cohabitators, homosexuals or fornicators." He described as "illogical" a 1972 Supreme Court decision legalizing the use of contraception by unmarried couples.
I actually buy McDonnell's defense that his thinking has evolved. His last campaign manager was female, his wife works, five members of his senior staff as attorney general were women, one of his two daughters served in Iraq, and neither one is married. So there is legitimate reason to believe he's made his peace with the full participation of women in the workforce. But what about claims that the income tax is socialistic? Or that government should systematically discriminate against homosexuals?
McDonnell wasn't 25 when he wrote that thesis. He was 34, and a single year away from his first campaign for office. And it suggests that whatever pragmatic accommodations McDonnell has made with modernity, he's starting from an extraordinarily conservative ideological base.
McDonnell, of course, says that that's no longer true. His thinking has evolved. But when a committed social conservative is basing his campaign around evolution, you know something has gone terribly wrong.
Cartoon credit: Tom Toles.
September 2, 2009; 10:33 AM ET
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