When the Washington Post pulled Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert McDonnell's master's thesis from a library and summarized its socially conservative contents this past Sunday, the result was, as The New Republic's Michelle Cottle wrote, predictable: his political opponents on the left rushed "to hang this bit of Neanderthalism around McDonnell's neck," while "Republicans are whining that Dems are unfairly picking on McDonnell because of a 20-year-old paper." Well? Is it unfair? Cottle herself isn't sure, and her fellow left-leaning bloggers also appear a little hesitant. Here's the current lay of the land:
- Eye for An Eye, Cottle seemed to conclude: "In general, I find the obsession with politicans' student writings excessive." But Republicans attacked Hillary and Michelle Obama for their theses. Plus, she added, McDonnell wasn't an undergrad at the time--he was 34. The final word? "God help us if Joe Biden's grade-school collection of dirty limericks ever surfaces."
- "The 25/25 Rule" "I have a solution," liberal Kevin Drum announced on Mother Jones. "It doesn't count if you did it more than 25 years ago or before your 25th birthday." He excluded the odd "major scandal" or "career accomplishment" from this calculation, as well as acts conforming to a "consistent pattern." McDonnell's thesis was twenty years ago. "He was a grown man," Drum declared, which means that while his words should not "disqualify him from office [...] it's fair for his opponents to bring it up."
- 34 Is Old, agreed the Washington Post's Ezra Klein, who is 24. McDonnell was "a single year away from his first campaign from office" when writing. For what it's worth, Klein offered, "I actually buy McDonnell's defense that his thinking has evolved," noting his working wife, female senior staff, and single daughters. "But," he continued, "when a committed social conservative is basing his campaign around evolution, you know something has gone terribly wrong."
- Fair for Opponents, Yes, but for The Post? Robert Knight, right-leaner of the American Thinker, is aghast. Today, Knight attacked the Washington Post for publishing an investigative piece on McDonnell, following it up with a lead editorial yesterday calling him a "culture warrior," and then also running the headline "Governor's Race Erupts Over McDonnell's Past Views." It's a cute trick, although "a lot of news organizations do this," he noted. His real problem, however, wasn't with the content or the followup, but with the layout:
The campaign began on August 30, with a top of the page, single column headline, "'89 Thesis a Different Side of McDonnell: Va. GOP candidate Wrote on Women, Marriage and Gays." It was right next to a gigantic, five-column headline honoring Ted Kennedy: ‘We Loved This Kind and Tender Hero.' Just below was a photo of a mourner holding a large American flag.Knight responded, a picture of conservative rage: "You mean he hasn't been running with it?"
Ted a hero! McDonnell a fundamentalist bigot! Over on the front page of the Post's Outlook section, there was also a giant headline, saying, "We Have the HOPE" (the latter word all caps in at least 72-point type) with a photo of Kennedy applauding as Obama looks heroically skyward. The rest of the headline below the photo reads, "Now Where's the Audacity? Ted Kennedy passed the liberal torch to Obama. Now let's run with it."