If you’ve ever watched the Summer Olympics then you know what I’m talking about. A lithe young gymnast works her way through a dizzying routine of gravity defying moves. She aces each maneuver until she comes to the end of her routine and she must dismount from the bars or beam where she has performed. Her body arcs through the air with supreme grace, but something is just ever so slightly off. As she plants her feet on the padded mats there is a stumble, or worse, a sickening snap of bone and cartilage as an ankle gives way. Having aced her routine, the gymnast has blown her dismount.
That is the position Governor Bob McDonnell finds himself in tonight. McDonnell has been running from his thesis since September 2009, and for the most part, he has done so masterfully. He has played off his extremist views to please the extremists in his party, while steadfastly maintaining a moderate line so as not to offend mainstream Virginia voters. Tonight, that balancing act came to a sudden, jarring end, as McDonnell found himself in a place where he could not please both his extremist base and Virginia’s main street.
The issue was trans-vaginal probing; a vicious punitive measure put forward by legislators from the Virginia Republican base seeking to punish and humiliate women seeking abortions for any reason. The law made no distinction between women who were victims of rape or incest or women who desperately wanted children but who had a problem pregnancy that threatened their own health. The proposed law was transparently intended to hassle women at a moment in time when they were exercising a constitutional right to control their own reproductive systems at a moment of tremendous personal–and therefore private–stress.
The Republican Party of Virginia’s response was to advocate for the state mandated penetration of these women by a probe in a medically unnecessary procedure in an attempt to humiliate them and intimidate them from exercising their rights. The Virginia GOP wanted to mandate object rape as the price of abortion, even though many of the women seeking abortions were doing so as the result of rape or incest. The GOP would have mandated a second violation as the price of escape from the consequences of rape or incest.
As this legislation moved forward through the General Assembly, it rightly drew the derision and indignation of the American people as made concrete in the satire of John Stewart, Saturday Night Live, and others. The Virginia Republican Party’s war on the rights of women has rightly been held up to national ridicule. Now, as the legislation nears passage and presentation to Bob McDonnell for his signature, McDonnell has abruptly drawn back.
Only now does McDonnell fully comprehend the overreach of the Republican majority in Virginia’s General Assembly. McDonnell has been working overtime to obtain the Republican vice presidential nomination for 2012. McDonnell knows that if he gets the 2012 VP nod it doesn’t matter if the Republican 2012 ticket fails: he will be at the top of list for the presidential nod in 2016–the real prize. Bob McDonnell wants the 2012 VP nod because it would make him the presumptive nominee in 2016, when Barack Obama’s larger-than-life persona will no longer be at the top of the opposing ticket.
McDonnell is caught in a no-win situation. Any draw back from the extremist position demanding that women seeking abortion for any reason first be subjected to object penetration against their will will be seen as a “cave” by McDonnell’s own political base. On the other hand, any draw back short of complete surrender will not be enough to satisfy women who are angered by any attempt to place a burden on their exercise of a constitutional right to control their own reproductive system. The Republican desire to meddle in the private lives of women is a profound violation of their own mantra about keeping government small and out of the lives of ordinary Americans and points up the fundamental hypocrisy at the very root of Republican ideology.
Bob McDonnell’s pathetic attempt at compromise–abandoning trans-vaginal ultrasounds in favor of a mandate of another kind of ultrasound–still violates the conservative opposition to government mandates and still violates the privacy of individual women. It is a compromise that pleases no one. Bob McDonnell really had no good political alternative once this legislation was allowed to advance beyond legislative committee. Today, he tried to find the compromise that would preserve his relationship with the Republican base while allowing him to advance to the next step in his political career, a run for the vice presidency. Instead, what we heard tonight was a sickening snap as McDonnell broke his rhetorical ankle trying to dismount from his party’s extreme position.
Bob McDonnell won’t be running for anything anytime soon.