Monday, August 10, 2009

Why the Abortion Issue is Freaking Out McDonnell and His Minions

Why are Bob McDonnell and Virginia conservatives afraid to discuss social issues like choice and discrimination against gay people?

If you doubt that they are afraid, look no further than the ferocity of the response on the righty blogs to Creigh Deeds' raising of the issue. Their response was not to defend Mr. McDonnell’s positions, but rather to seek to squelch the debate before it could even begin by arguing, among other things, and quite ridiculously in my opinion, that Creigh agreed not to raise these issues in the campaign. Here is VA Blogger at Too Conservative:
In just two short weeks, Creigh Deeds finds himself pitted against himself from two weeks ago: During the Virginia Bar Association debate, both candidates agreed that social issues took a back seat this election[.]

Uh, that was more an observation by the candidates of how the campaign might unfold. It certainly was no a promise not to raise an issue that “pits” Creigh against himself. Well, nevermind.

Several conservative blogs have also offered their opinion that raising social issues is a poor strategy that will not work, to which I can only thank them for their genuine concern. VA Blogger, again:
The rub here is that abortion is a divisive issue, which staunch advocates on both sides. But while Deeds can certainly play up a contrast with McDonnell on this issue—something he hasn’t been able to do on more substantive issues by saying “me too!”—that doesn’t mean people will care about it when voting for Governor.

But VA Blogger makes it clear that it is not a good issue for McDonnell to discuss, adding:
McDonnell would do himself well to avoid this desperate wedge issue and keep leading on jobs and the economy, on transportation, on energy, on quality of life issues, and on the issues that matter to and affect everyone.

I could only shake my head at that one. Apparently, the right to control one’s own health care is not a quality of life issue for VA Blogger. And what does the phrase “issues that matter to and affect everyone” mean? Is there such an issue?

At Bearing Drift, Shaun Kenney, in additiion to explaining once again why the tactic would not work, even more hilariously resorted to the unusual tactic of complimenting Lowell Feld in an effort, perhaps, to distract Progressives away from this argument:
Convincing women that McDonnell is somehow out of the mainstream on abortion is like one horse bucking a national freight train. Gallup polls are showing Americans to be majority pro-life for the first time in the history of modern polling.
Deeds will perceptibly fail at this effort as well. … Deeds can do one of three things at this point … 3. Get the Democratic blogosphere re-engaged. Let’s face it — where is Lowell Feld in this campaign? Blue Virginia (and he has to know this on some level) is a terrible platform for Lowell.

Signifcantly, Shaun's assertion about the recent Gallup poll might be factually correct, but it is nonetheless misleading, and neatly demonstrates why this issue concerns McDonnell and his minions so. The portion of the poll Shaun cites relates to a question asking people what they considered themselves to be, and by one point, 47-46, people said they were “pro-life.”

More revealing in that very same poll, however, is that only 18% of respondents held the same position as Mr. McDonnell on the issue of choice, namely, that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances.

In contrast, 77% of the respondents in the poll held the pro-choice positions, i.e., that abortion should be legal in all circumstances (21%), or legal under only certain circumstances (57%). This is Creigh’s position.

But there is another, more fundamental fear that Mr. McDonnell has of social issues, and that is that these issues might reveal the real Bob McDonnell to the voters. That real Bob McDonnell is an extremist who would seek to impose, with the force of law, his social and religious moral beliefs on all of us.

When Bob McDonnell says all abortions should be criminalized, there is no space for tolerance of other views. When Bob McDonnell would deny someone a judgeship because he believes she is gay, or writes legal opinions justifying discrimination against gay people, he was using his power – power granted to him by the citizens of Virginia – to discriminate.

Mr. McDonnell knows that Virginians will not support this kind of nonsense, so he worked hard in this campaign –successfully, so far, I might add -- to falsely paint himself as a moderate.

There are several factors that have allowed him to get away with this:
1. Mr. McDonnell is a likable candidate with a good sense of humor. He is not a snarling, angry wingnut like Catherine Crabill, a smarmy political operative like Eric Cantor, a party apparatchik like Jeff Frederick or Pat Mullins, or a black helicopter spotter like Ken Cuccinelli. So, if Mr. McDonnell comes across as a reasonable man, it pays to look at the people connected to the RPV that are defining Conservatism in the Commonwealth. The bar is not merely set low; it’s buried a few feet into the ground.

2. Mr. McDonnell has espoused a platform in almost every area that relies on meaningless bromides and proposals with which it is hard to disagree, but they are strictly small bore solutions, and they are clearly designed more to avoid criticism than to address problems. In short, his platform doesn’t leave much to seriously critique, because it is almost utterly void of meaningful content or interesting ideas that would really make much of a difference. My personal favorite is the plan to appoint Bill Bolling "Chief Job Creation Offcier," but his platform is chock-full of expanding this, appointing that, ensuring the other thing, blah, blah blah. It's like the guy who explains how to become rich by advising you to "make a lot of money." Awful hard to argue with that advice, meaningless as it is.

3. Other parts of Mr. McDonnell’s platform are built on falsehoods that are difficult to disprove. Mr. McDonnell, for example, claims offshore drilling has been established as environmentally safe, citing a think tank in support of his ideas. Of course, it is a think tank funded by oil interests. Mr. McDonnell argues that revenues from offshore drilling would be sufficient to fund the Commonwealth’s transportation needs. But the fact is that, according to non-partisan studies, the environmental impact of offshore drilling, at best, requires more study. As for the revenues, those are simply uncertain until further testing can be completed, but unlikely to provide the riches Mr. McDonnell promises.

4. The mainstream media tend to focus on the strategic and tactical aspects of campaigns, not their substance, especially when those strategies and tactics are working. Thus, coverage of Mr. McDonnell’s efforts to keep who he really is under wraps actually draws favorable coverage, because he is effective at it, rather than provide the exposure his strategy, based as it is on misrepresentations and distortions, deserves. This isn't a criticism. I think the MSM views such critiques (with the exception of the occasional “fact check” feature) as partisan in nature and therefore a violation of their responsibility to remain "objective."

Some problems Mr. McDonnell faces from this line of attack are fairly clear. Most significantly, McDonnell's lead in the polls rests almost completely of Democrats being dispirited so far in this campaign. Pressing a hot button social issue could wake up the Democratic base, which could spell trouble for McDonnell.

The problem Mr. McDonnell faces from all this is not so much that Choice will become an outcome determinative issue in this election, however. I think the economy will continue to hold that title. But, at the end of the day, objectively evaluating the various economic solutions offered by each candidate are difficult, if not impossible, tasks for most, if not all, voters. There is too much speculation involved. Much depends on one's ideology.

But for many voters, the decision often comes down to the gut determination of, “Who do you trust?”

The social issues dispute creates at least two problems in this regard for Mr. McDonnell. First, "Moderate Bob," who is funny and wants to find areas of agreement with Democrats, who promises not to discriminate despite a record of supporting discrimination, is a much more likeable political persona than "Real Bob." Sure, there is a cadre of true believers who genuinely like "Real Bob" and his extremist views, but for most voters, the image of a self-righteous fundamentalist without tolerance for others' beliefs, a puppet whose strings are being pulled by his mentor, Pat Robertson, is not an appealing picture. If more voters come to see Mr. McDonnell in this way, his message on economic, environmental and transportation issues will surely suffer.

Second, given that Mr. McDonnell’s campaign is based on creating an entirely false image of the GOP candidate. I would suspect there is a very real fear in the McDonnell camp that if one element of his fa├žade crumbles in public, there is a risk of the domino effect taking hold and voters ceasing to trust Mr. McDonnell on other issues, as well.

As discussed above, proving Bob McDonnell is painting a fake picture of himself when it comes to the economy, and the related issues of jobs, transportation, the environment and education, is a relatively complex undertaking. His prior record is sparse, and inconclusive. Economic bromides, by their nature, tend to involve speculations that are simply not provable one way or another. And, his ideas, because they lack substance, are tough to critique.

But proving Mr. McDonnell is pulling the wool over the eyes of the Commonwealth’s voters when it comes to social issues is more easily demonctrated, because there Mr. McDonnell has a record.

And if voters come to see how Bob McDonnell is fooling them about how extreme he is on social issues, well, folks might just ask, “What else is he trying to fool us about?”

That, friends, is not a question Bob McDonnell wants to hear.

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