Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on September 7, 2014
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“Good intentions, like mother’s milk, are a perishable commodity. As wealth accumulates, men decay, and sooner or later an aristocracy that once might have aspired to an ideal of wisdom and virtue goes rancid in the sun, becomes an oligarchy distinguished by a character that Aristotle likened to that of the ‘prosperous fool’ – its members so besotted by their faith in money that ‘they therefore imagine there is nothing that it cannot buy.”
― Lewis Lapham, Lapham’s Quarterly, Fall 2012
“Bartender, a double schadenfreude for me, and see what the others here at the Diner will have,” as Charlie Pierce, il miglior fabbro, might have said.
The Old Dominion’s summer spectacle, an antidote for the dog days of August, has drawn to a close. The public corruption trial of former Gov. Bob McDonnell (always and forever known in this space as Gov. Transvaginal Ultrasound as as result of his tireless campaign against women’s reproductive health in Virginia) and his wife, Maureen, on Federal corruption charges, has concluded. For the first time in the state’s history, an ex-governor, a man who warmed the seat formerly occupied by Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson, is a convicted felon – found guilty of selling the power and influence of his office for $177,000 in loans, gifts, luxury vacations, and a swell Rolex.
Here in the Old Dominion, the view of the imminent conviction was by no means as assured as it may have appeared in those regions of the country where people traffic in, say, common sense. The drumbeat listing of gifts, trinkets, loans would cause ordinary people to shake their heads, exchange knowing glances, and think to themselves, “caught dead to rights.” But this is Virginia, or should I say,”Vuh-jun-yuh,” where the fix is always in, where things are done somewhat differently, and you need to be wired just to be able to open a small business (the stories of restauranteurs and other small businesses going belly up because they couldn’t execute their business plans for “permitting issues” and other forms of institutional delay, thus strangling their cash flow, are legion here.)
I readily, even enthusiastically confess my own cynicism in this matter. Yet I was not alone. My former accountant has become a well known and effective political pundit in my little corner of the world, and publishes a blog that pays particular attention to Virginia politics. She also predicted that the Ultrasounds would walk, and also got it wrong. It is important to remember that all of these charges and convictions were brought under Federal law, as nothing that the Ultrasounds did was, or is, illegal according to Virginia law. And that is why the most frequently used modifier to the phrase, “Virginia ethics law” is “lax.” Much is made in these precincts about “the Virginia Way,” and the Virginia governorship as a sacred trust dating back to Henry, Jefferson, et al. All now exposed as just the latest chapter in the continuing saga that reads, “This is America where everything is for sale.”
Some years ago I canceled my newspaper, as I became tired of paying for stale news. Yet one of the last areas of newspapers can still excel is local news, if you can stomach it. I must say that I resubscribed to the paper simply so Contrary and I could get the dispatches from the front, as it were, for this summer soap opera. My inner hunchback was delighted to see Transvaginal Ultrasound go to trial, largely because I was so unalterably opposed to the hallmark “achievements” of his administration: the continued and attempted privatization of public infrastructure, including selling tunnel development projects to private overseas concerns, and an attempt to sell off the port of Virginia; a war waged on the women of Virginia, generaled by his personal Iago, Atty. Gen. Ken Cuccinelli, who lawyered up some torturous regulations that all but assured reproductive health clinics would have to close; and the attempt to create a regulatory regime to legalize uranium mining in Virginia, an existential threat to the health and safety of not only Virginians but millions of others in affected watersheds, a plan so baroque, bizarre and ill-considered that it boggled the imagination. So Contrary and I, having been involved in various acts of civic activism to oppose these private sorties upon the public purse, followed this trial as avidly as the average NFL fans follow their team.
As noted in the article posted above, the Ultrasounds’ legal defense involved dragging Maureen through the mud and making her out to be, as one witness described her, a “nutcase.” This defense seemed remarkable while following the play-by-play each day reports, including the legal theatre staged for the jury’s consumption; after the verdict, and with the distance afforded by hindsight, it seems not only tawdry but inept… For superb Monday Morning quarterbacking of this astonishing legal defense, read the Gawker article, “I Slut-Shamed My Wife and All I Got Was 11 Lousy Federal Convictions.”
And in the department of “ironies abound,” never forget that this defense was mounted by the “family values” campaigner, all shiny and happy with Jaysus, whose campaign ads always featured his beautiful wife and their equally beautiful daughters, perfectly backlit, and showing off their perfect dental work in a tableau whose subtext was, “the perfect Christian family for the perfect candidate blessed by God.”
Also never forget that the disgraced, indicted and convicted former Virginia Gov. Transvaginal Ultrasound was Pat Robertson’s personal hand picked mentee. Robertson’s featured McDonnell in long and rambling interviews (does Pat do any other kind?) on the 700 Club. McDonnell was a graduate of Robertson’s Regent “University,” which in itself started as a specious entity called “CBN University,” such schools seemingly a grift specific to televangelists. (Liberty “University” is a similar creation in Lynchburg started by the late, unlamented Jerry Falwell.) The purposes of these so-called schools is the indoctrination with hyper-conservative Christopathic policy and equipage with the tools to dismantle the existing American social contract. One will not soon forget the spectacle of the Justice Department under Bush the Lesser larded with graduates of the Regent “University” law school to execute John Yoo’s “torture memo” and the other singular legal interpretations of that vicarage of Satan.
And for his part, Robertson, whose TV appearances have crossed the line from self-satire to advanced mental infirmity, told America that then entire legal proceedings were a “political prosecution,” ordered up by Obama, Holder, and perhaps the Alien Grays.
The Robertson connection remains worth exploring. When you believe that your life is touched by God, you tend to believe that you can do no wrong. (God has his hand on your shoulder, so, “What? Me worry? Your good fortune is your due, your “blessing,” as a result of having lived a good and godly life, never failing to tithe.) McDonnell sat on the Regent Board of Trustees; Pat donated to his campaigns. McDonnell was the shiniest trophy in Pat Robertson’s trophy case. He used his Regent law degree as a springboard into Virginia politics and rose quickly, featuring chiseled good looks and a made for TV family, and looking to many like the next Great White Hope for 2016. When your career is touched by God, and you can do no wrong, you tend to ignore the warning signs that might make us lesser breeds without the benefits of God’s blessing of abundance worry about things like hubris. It was this arrogance that led McDonnell to reject a plea deal that would have spared him, his wife, and his family this public spectacle and disgrace. It is worth reading about the deal that got away, which you could do here.
A plea deal would have allowed the McDonnells to avoid the release of embarrassing details in an indictment as well as a bruising public trial that will probably put the internal dynamics of their marriage on full display.
Robert McDonnell has said publicly that he was not aware of all of the gifts his family accepted from Williams in 2011 and 2012.
People familiar with the investigation say that in private meetings, the couple’s attorneys have told prosecutors that Maureen McDonnell at times actively worked to hide Williams’s generosity from her husband.
In court, that idea will be tested against the reality of the couple’s relationship as jurors are asked to assess whether they believe the former governor could have been in the dark about Williams’s largesse and his wife’s activities to help Star Scientific.
So the Governor had ample opportunity to exercise those vaunted Christian “family values” and spare his family the indignity of a trial, let alone multiple convictions. He chose instead to rehabilitate his flagging national political ambitions by employing a scorched earth legal defense which traduced his wife and his marriage. And if it cost him a wife, well they’re stamping out younger, shinier trophy editions every day.
The McDonnell legal team (the financing for which remains a matter of speculation- if they are so broke, who’s paying?) vows an appeal. Next step for the Governor and his wife is the sentencing phase, expected to take place in early January. At this point I would be remiss to not point out the extraordinary reporting provided by Virginian Pilot reporter Bill Sizemore and other members of the Pilot editorial team. Sizemore in particular has done an extraordinary job of framing the issues and making nuanced legal points comprehensible to those of us sitting in the cheap seats. An archive of the team’s case reporting can be found here. It rewards investigation.
Up to now, even the Palins, the Kallikak family of American politics, have not been convicted of corruption and fraud.
So when your local politician asks for your vote, and parades his beautiful wife and beautiful family on the end tag of his campaign commercial, check to make sure your wallet is still in place.
Surly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, articles and spittle-flecked invective on this site, and has been active in the Occupy movement. He shares a home in Southeastern Virginia with Contrary and is grateful for every day on this side of the dirt.