McDonnell Disavows Controversial Right-Wing Ideas From His Thesis

Bob McDonnell, the Republican nominee for Governor of Virginia, just had an unusually long conference call with reporters — about 80 minutes — in which he sought to walk back and minimize any political damage that might occur from his recently-revealed 1989 master’s thesis at Regent University, in which the then-34-year-old McDonnell laid out a comprehensive religious right political program.

(For more goodies from the thesis, check out our write-up at TPMmuckraker.)

Said McDonnell: “A contention by my opponent [state Sen. Creigh Deeds] that a 20-year-old academic exercise somehow represents my 18-year career in public service is just a flat misrepresentation, and the Senator well knows that.’

McDonnell, point by point, disowned the positions he took in the thesis — even at one point minimizing it as a “term paper.” He said that he respects women in the workplace; that he would not try to re-restrict divorce; that he does not advocate discrimination against gays; and that he does not regard civil law is subject to Biblical law.“Government should not discriminate based on race or sex or creed or sexual orientation,” said McDonnell. “And as Attorney General I had a very clear hiring policy in my office. We discriminated on no basis at all. I said I wanted the best and brightest people to work in my office.”

He also said that he would not use government to go after unmarried couples: “I don’t think the government’s got any business when it comes to cohabitation or any other living arrangements whatsoever.”

“I can only tell you that I am fully supportive of women working int he workplace,” he also said. “My wife works, my daughters work. My campaign manager in 2005 was a working mother, and Sen. Deeds knows that because he knew my campaign manager at the time.”

“I do not advocate the repeal of no-fault divorce,” he later added, favoring other ways to build strong families. For example, he has supported covenant marriage, which is a voluntary arrangement under which couples agree up front to restrictions on divorce, and has attracted bipartisan support — including from Dem Gov. Tim Kaine, McDonnell pointed out.

Furthermore, McDonnell said he wasn’t even that familiar with his writings of 20 years ago, that it’s been such a long time. “I haven’t looked and read that in 20 years,” he said. “But I’m telling you what’s important is what are the positions I’ve held as a Delegate, and what the positions I’ve held as Attorney General.”

McDonnell repeatedly said that he was not speaking against women in the workplace: “It was evaluating a trend in the culture. It was evaluating about 30 years of a change in policy, and any indications I gave in that paper that I didn’t think women should work, I absolutely and fully repudiate it.”

He also accused Deeds of being the one who was turning to a divisive social agenda, as opposed to concrete problems like jobs, in order to gain votes. And he went back to his own family on multiple occasions to make the point.

“I’m insulted by Sen. Deeds, to be able to suggest today that somehow I don’t support working women or women in the workforce,” said McDonnell. “For me to have my daughter over in Iraq, flying around in a Blackhawk, dodging bullets in a convoy when we were running against each other in 2005 [McDonnell very narrowly defeated Deeds for state Attorney General in 2005], and for my daughters to be encouraged by me to gain master’s degrees — for him to suggest that I somehow don’t support women in the workplace is insulting.”

I asked McDonnell about sections from the thesis in which he said civil government does not have the authority to redefine family relationships that originated before civil government itself, in the Garden of Eden, and also that government is constrained by the limited powers given to it by God. Does he believe that civil laws contradicting the Bible are not legitimate?

“No,” he said. “Again, this was a 20-year-old paper that informed a lot by the readings that I had done at the time. I do believe — again, based on my Catholic teaching, that the institution of the family goes back to the dawn of time. I think most people within the Christian faith, that’s sort of an accepted understanding from the Garden of Eden. So I do believe that as my personal belief. But I have demonstrated form my 18 years in political office, that there is a distinction between one’s personal views and what’s permissible in the law. I do believe that the civil authority has the authority and has for some time to regulate the laws of marriage and divorce. That goes back to the early days in England where we got most of America’s early laws.”

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