Gov. Ultrasound’s Guilty Verdict and the End of the Era of Republican ‘Family Values’

Once an self-appointed arbiter of moral virtue, McDonnell threw his wife – and his family values – under the bus in a failed attempt to avoid prison time

With the guilty verdicts in the corruption trial of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, the GOP’s claim to be the party of “family values” — a political messaging tool that served it well in the 1980s and ’90s — may have finally met its end. McDonnell’s status as an icon of the theocratic virtue drove his ascendancy from the Virginia Legislature to the governor’s office and fueled speculation he might be picked as Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012.

He earned the nickname “Gov. Ultrasound” after he signed a law that forced women seeking abortions to undergo involuntary transvaginal ultrasounds with probes that opponents dubbed “shaming wands”

In his first months as governor, he restored the state’s ability to fire gay employees while earning the nickname “Gov. Ultrasound” after he signed a law that forced women seeking abortions to undergo involuntary transvaginal ultrasounds with probes that opponents dubbed “shaming wands.”

During McDonnell’s campaign for governor, a thesis came to light that he’d written at Regent University, a theocratic institution operated by televangelist Pat Robertson. In the thesis, written when McDonnell was 35, he opined that civil law should not apply to families because families are “God-ordained governments” that started with Adam and Eve and therefore predating the existence of society. Relying on this biblical premise, McDonnell suggested civil government “must restrain, punish, and deter” homosexuality, pornography and drug abuse and restrict the rights of gays and unwed mothers. He also criticized working women and no-fault divorce.

This year, 25 years after he wrote that thesis, when McDonnell found himself facing multiple counts of corruption, he abruptly jettisoned his family values by throwing his wife under the bus in a desperate but ultimately failed attempt to save his own hide. Now, pending appeals, he’s facing a lengthy prison sentence — as is the wife he betrayed.

The GOP converted itself into the party of “family values” during the Reagan era in order to attract Southern evangelicals who’d voted the straight segregationist Democratic ticket for generations. The strategy helped get Reagan elected in 1980 — Reagan launched his campaign in Philadelphia, Miss., site of the murders of three Civil Rights workers by the Ku Klux Klan 16 years earlier — and then paid off big time in the 1994 midterms when the GOP won control of the House for the first time since the Joe McCarthy era. With Speaker Newt Gingrich in charge, the party once again positioned itself as an arbiter of ideological and moral purity, passing a rack of laws at the local, state and national level based loosely on biblical teaching.

The party staked out its strongest positions advocating government regulation of women’s reproductive rights and opposing equal rights for gays. The low point came in 1996 during the passage of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act which Republicans claimed would protect the sanctity of “traditional marriage” by denying Social Security and other government benefits to same-sex married couples. It came to light later that Speaker Gingrich was engaged in an adulterous affair at the time he was pushing the Act through Congress — and that Pres. Clinton was also having extramarital sex with Monica Lewinsky around the time he signed DOMA into law.

Over the next few years, similar revelations about family-values espousing Republican came to light, one after another and another and another. The revelations of hypocrisy became so routine and pervasive that the GOP could no longer hide the fact that rather than standing as protectors of marriage the party was riven with adulterers.

Republicans don’t talk about family values much anymore, in part because as a political strategy it has outlived its usefulness. Evangelicals are now securely inside the GOP tent, despite the fact that the party has failed to deliver on hot-button issues. Abortion and homosexuality are still legal. Perhaps even more fundamentally, pushing moral values no longer works for the GOP because, as the McDonnell case proves, Republicans are unable to live up to the high standards they seek to impose on everyone else.

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