A Respite from the Culture Wars?

Bill Bolling. Photo credit: Times-Dispatch

by James A. Bacon

It sounds like Virginia Republicans have learned a lesson — at least temporarily — from the shellacking they took in the November elections. All the talk of “legitimate rape,” rape-induced pregnancy as a “gift from god” and, earlier this year, trans-vaginal ultrasounds has poisoned the Grand Old Party in the minds of thousands of voters who otherwise would be receptive to its message of limited government.

I believe that most Virginians belong, like me, to the “muddled middle” in the culture war, uncomfortable with positions staked out by extremists on both sides of the political spectrum. A majority of Virginians also are concerned that government has grown too big, too intrusive, too heavily in debt (at the federal level) and a hindrance to economic growth. But many, fearing that Republicans want to roll back the clock on gay rights and women’s rights, cast their ballots for Democrats instead.

It appears that Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling has gotten the message, according to Jim Nolan writing in the Times-Dispatch. Speaking to a recent gathering of Republican women in Charlottesville, Bolling called for Republicans to learn the lesson from the election. “I’m a pro-life guy — I have always been a pro-life guy,” he said. “But I understand that within our party we have pro-life Republicans and pro-choice Republicans. Whether you’re pro-life or pro-choice there needs to be a respect of opinions on both sides of the issue.”

Meanwhile, other ranking Republicans have signaled a reluctance to resume the abortion fight. House Speaker William J. Howell, R-Stafford told Nolan: “There’s sort of a feeling that we’ve pretty much done everything that needs to be done.”

Sen. Stephen H. Martin, R-Chesterfield, said that the GOP-controlled Senate Education and Health Committee, which he heads, would not reconsider “personhood” legislation.

Bolling defended legislative initiatives in the 1990s and early 2000s that enjoyed broad public support, such as parental notification and consent to abortion, a ban on partial birth abortion, and higher patient safety standards for abortion clinics. But more recent initiatives have turned off voters. Republicans, he suggested, should pick different issues.

“Why aren’t we the party that champions efforts to reduce teen pregnancy in Virginia, which results in so many abortions? Why aren’t we the party that champions support for crisis pregnancy that helps women deal with unwanted or unintended pregnancies? Why aren’t we the party that does more to promote adoption as an option to abortion?”

Ken Cuccinelli

Excellent questions, all. Republicans could frame such proposals as win-win initiatives that win the support of independents and Democrats. Unfortunately, Bolling this morning announced that he would withdraw from the 2013 governor’s race, depriving himself of a soapbox to advance those very causes. His decision effectively cedes the nomination to Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a firebrand cultural conservative.

In an interview with Nolan, Cuccinelli said that the GOP needs “to be open to people of different perspectives. … I think that the center of the Republican Party is one that favors life and protects it, but I don’t think we have — and we have to be cautious not to have — an exclusionary mentality for people with different views.”

It’s all well and good to say that the GOP should be a big-tent party. But how would Cuccinelli govern? Would he champion culture-wars issues that turn off the electorate? Or, as a small-government conservative, would he devote his energy to holding the line on taxes while preserving essential state government services? Would he be willing to tackle the deep, structural challenges facing Virginia — the crises in declining economic competitiveness, K-12 education, higher ed, health care, transportation and land use — or would he just paper them over?

We won’t know the answer until 2014 — assuming Cuccinelli assuages voter fears of his deep-rooted cultural conservatism and manages to win the election. Until then, we can at least console ourselves that we should get a break from the culture wars in the 2013 General Assembly session. The big question, then, is this: If the culture wars are off the table, will legislators have anything else to discuss?

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


15 responses to “A Respite from the Culture Wars?”

  1. re: ” … the “muddled middle” in the culture war, uncomfortable with positions staked out by extremists on both sides of the political spectrum”

    but the one you need to be concerned about is the one that is losing elections for your preferred party.

    at the end of the day, the muddle middle GOP will stand next to the racists and knuckle draggers and that’s the problem that defines the GOP now days rather than soundly denounce them as representative of the GOP.

    Bolling bowing out is yet another example of the extremist parts of the GOP – willingly choosing someone who is not moderate and likely handing the Governorship to whoever chooses to run.

    Any party that loses, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, young people and women not to mention the 47% parasite “takers” has more than just some “messaging” issues. It has a problem
    with how it thinks and articulates it’s “vision” for the country.

    The GOP is not learning. They’re bound and determined to go down in old white guys hidebound flames….

    it will be interesting to see if McDonnell and other Virginia GOP campaigns for the Cooch.

  2. DJRippert Avatar

    Bacon is missing the point and LarryG isn’t in the same zip code as the point.

    The Bolling announcement has far more to do with Bob McDonnell than anything or anybody else.

    McDonnell (obviously) will not be in President Romney’s cabinet. He can’t run again for governor in 2013 and he would fight an uphill battle against Mark Warner in 2014. Bobby Mac turns 59 this summer and would be 62 by the next presidential election.

    What’s a poor boy to do?

    First things first – prove your mettle to the national Republican Party by keeping Virginia red at the state level. That means avoiding the kind of suicidal primary that haunted the Democrats in Virginia during the last gubernatorial election. That means asking consummate team player Bill Bolling to step aside and asking consummate self-promoting buttwipe Ken Cuccinelli to “tone it down”. McDonnell has now accomplished the first goal. We’ll see if he can accomplish the second. Next up – avoid the social conservative legislation of the last General Assembly session this January. No more ultra-sound legislation, no more personhood bills, no more orbiting space urns. Finally, deliver a sound state-wide victory for Republicans next November in the “swing state” of Virginia.

    All of which would start McDonnell on the long road to 2016.

    I have a saying in business – never let the expansion of your ego serve to compress the width of your wallet. In politics, McDonnell needs to be sure that his distaste for Cuccinelli doesn’t create a ceiling for his own political ambitions. McDonnell’s nightmare scenario is to side with Bolling only to see him lose the convention – based governor’s primary. From there, a typically out-of-control Cooch the Pooch proceeds to self-destruct in the general election leaving McDonnell as the architect of a very blue Virginia. At that point, Bob would need to start re-oiling his fishing reels and head back to Virginia Beach since he’d have no future in politics.

    McDonnell has, once again, shown his savvy. Bolling wasn’t going to win the primary even with Uncle Bob’s support. Meanwhile, Cooch was going to be completely uncontrollable in the general election. Now, Bob avoids the primary fiasco and has a muzzle on the Pooch. In the next 12 months expect to see lots of Bob McDonnell speeches and, ultimately, TV ads for Cuccinelli. All of which provides some much needed momentum into the run up for 2016.

    Outside of retirement or the odd run for a second governor’s term in 2017 (which he still can do), McDonnell had no other choice. Bolling had to step aside. And Cucinelli needs to head to political charm school. One down, one to go.

    1. That’s an interesting and plausible theory explaining why Bolling is bowing out of the race. Whatever the reason, Virginia (hopefully) will enjoy a respite from the culture wars in the 2013 session and (a long shot) legislators will work on fixing broken core functions of government.

    2. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      Following Don’s narrative, all this outwardly bizarre behavior makes perfect sense. Imagine the political system that can create such convolution. Reminds one of a three ring Circus featuring you know who.

  3. DJRippert Avatar

    Cuccinelli is emblematic of the RPV’s BS. Talk about a career politician. They guy went to a private high school, UVA, and then got a JD and MA degree from George Mason. So, the first 26 years of his life were primarily lived as a student. By age 34 he was in the Virginia Senate, by age 41 he was running for Attorney General. If he has his way, he’ll be governor at 45.

    I give up, where is his real world experience?

    The guy is a professional politician of the Ted Kennedy ilk.

    Mark Warner was a practicing lawyer and successful entrepreneur. Bob McDonnell was a military officer and businessman. Hell, even Kaine was a missionary and community organizer.

    Cuccinelli is a professional politician.


    1. Don, I’ve got my issues with Cuccinelli, but being a career politician is not one of them. As I recall, he worked as a patent attorney. The State Senate gig is only a part-time job. He undoubtedly continued working as an attorney (in the intellectual property arena) until he became Attorney General. So, that gives him (by your numbers) 14 years or so in the private sector. That’s a lot more private-sector experience than Teddy Kennedy had, I can assure you.

      1. DJRippert Avatar

        In June, 1951 Teddy Kennedy enlisted in the United States Army. He left the Army in 1953 as a Private First Class. Kennedy was also the assistant district attorney for Suffolk County, NY. Kennedy was 30 when he won his first election – to the US Senate.

        The big differences between Cuccinelli and Kennedy are that Kennedy served in the US military and Kennedy was a more successful professional politician – gaining national office earlier.

        As for being a patent attorney – spare me. The ultimate dwellers in the bureaucratic cracks that the Republicans claim to hate.

        I have a bit of experience with the US Patent system, being a patent inventor – http://1.usa.gov/TlU1jt. The US patent system is the epitome of government bureaucracy. If that’s Cuccinelli’s claim to “private sector” fame, he should continue to keep that to himself.

        1. re: the patent. Pretty darn cool! but it sounds like a lot of back office products. what makes it unique?

          as far as the Cooch’s “pedigree”

          I’m not that concerned about that but I am much concerned with his being a lap dog of the right.

  4. re: ” Bolling could not win the primary”

    anyone want to weigh in on why?

    I have my view but I’ll entertain others and no I do not buy DJ’s
    “plausible” conjecture and no I do not think McDonnell is going to “rein in ” the Cooch.

    With a little luck – Cooch and company do what Romney and company did and fully expose their true colors and the voters have no trouble deciding if they want Cooch to take us back to the Confederacy.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      OK – here’s my understanding – the Republican primary isn’t a popular vote. It’s a convention based approach where certain delegates decide on the winner. Most open primaries tend to draw the extremists from each party. The convention based primaries draw the uber – extremists. Cuccinelli, with his hard right social message, appeals to the uber – extremists.

      Once an open primary was abandoned and a convention based primary adopted, Bolling’s candidacy was doomed.


      The supposed party of openness and small government needs to hold it primaries in the dark with only party functionaries allowed to vote.

      The RPV is a disgrace.

      1. better answer than your “plausible” one. You have stumbled onto the awful truth and Bacon is mute on this.

        To admit the truth of what is going on in Va with the GOP is apparently to heavy a burden to bear, eh?

        My theory is this. At some point, the people who really do subscribe to the core principles of conservatism – are going to have to rise up to save their party which is now owned and operated by right wing cretins.

        It might be painful. It may split the party but in the end – those who stand on principles will have to be courageous and do the right thing – for the sake of the State and the Country.

        We need two parties and we need one of them to be primarily about fiscal conservatism and to shed the stink of social conservatism.

  5. re: the extremes

    who does the extreme on the left run off in elections?

    bonus question: do the left extremists run off the same number of people from voting Dem as the right extremists run off from voting GOP?

    We’re about to find out in Virginia.

    Will the same people who turned out for Obama turn out to vote against the Cooch?

    probably not and Va is on the cusp of right-wing land I fear.

  6. By the very act of attempting to make abortion or gay marriage illegal, the conservative Christian is placing faith in the role of secular government to correct what that Christian believes are threats to the moral fabric of the U.S. From my understanding of the Christian faith, God will not, cannot, hold governments responsible for their actions in the afterlife. He will hold individuals responsible for their individual actions. If the conservative Christian, if conservative Christian churches, do not like the moral landscape that is America today, perhaps some self reflection is in order, a look into the mirror. If the moral fiber of America is perceived to be in decay, then Christian must ask why the Christian church holds such little sway over the beliefs and conscience of Americans. Turning to a secular government for relief is just an escape hatch from the personal and institutional failures of Christians and the Christian church.

    Voices from within the conservative Christian church have expressed the same sentiments. In terms of regulating private morals, Johnny Hunt, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Georgia, aptly framed this in his interview with Simon Schama in the BBC documentary series, The American Future (Part 3, “American Fervor”):

    I don’t believe the answer’s in the White House. I believe it’s in our homes. We’re making the decisions. You can’t legislate morality. You can’t pass laws to make people better… We almost look at a presidential candidate sometimes as a savior, who can come and rescue our country when we really need to be rescued ourselves.

    For the record, I am personally pro-life for, if it were otherwise, it would be hard for me to uphold the natural rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Abortion is an ugly business and I believe most on either side of this infinite debate will agree with that statement. However, I would never attempt to outlaw abortion, for I also understand that if it could be outlawed, such legislation would be the most disregarded since Prohibition. The act of abortion is a very personal one, a decision that should be made by the individual. The consequences of that decision belong to the individual, and the individual alone. It is not for me to ask government to dictate otherwise.

    1. Sound libertarian thinking. Moral virtue must come from us. It cannot be imposed by government.

  7. so much for how the GOP approaches this issue, eh?

Leave a Reply