Mastering A Thesis
So, while a graduate student at an evangelical college and probably already planning his first political campaign, 34-year-old Robert McDonnell wrote a right-wing diatribe on everything from homosexuals to feminism to even sex before marriage. Not totally unexpected.
Now, the 54-year-old Republican candidate for Governor is trying to appeal to women voters and independents, and is desperately hoping his master’s thesis would just go away. I don’t blame him, but I side with Chris Bodenner and Ruth Marcus on this one.
It is a general fact of life that one becomes temperamentally and culturally more conservative – that is, more comfortable with what you have and less interested in change – as you get older. But you also become more pragmatic and less idealistic (which is partly why most Democratic politicians are considerably to the right of their college-age volunteer base).
The only two true explanations we could have for McDonnell’s defense is either he was placating an evangelical university while pursuing his degree and plotting his entry into politics, or he’s placating soccer moms now by being more moderate in practice than he actually is in philosophy.
Neither act of deception is particularly damning for a politician; indeed, it’s quite natural to tell people what they want to hear.
The problem becomes when you are unable to decide which side you’re deceiving. McDonnell can choose to discard his Christianist roots and demoralize his base, or he can choose to discard moderate voters and demoralize the party activists who thought he could win. Either way will liven up a race most people had begun to give up on.
But really, he shouldn’t be pretending that what one does in college is totally relevant. It isn’t, as people who hold sincere convictions don’t change radically over the course of their life. They certainly have a grasp of their convictions by the time they’re 34, especially if they are interning for Republicans and planning to run for the state legislature.
His best and most honest defense would have to be that he’s come to accept certain elements of his ideas as being wrong or impractical. It still leaves us wondering what he still believes, and just how right-wing his convictions are. But it’s far better than pretending that a young politico’s legislative action plan on behalf of conservative christians that remain his political base somehow doesn’t matter.
Because it most certainly does.