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Was Bob McDonnell the Patsy for Poet T.S. Eliot?

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by Paul Goldman

“April is the cruelest month” begins “The Waste Land,” a famed poem by T.S. Elliot. So it got me to ask this morning: Aren’t you a bit curious as to why, once the Washington Post, the Virginian Pilot, and the Roanoke Times editorial boards got their tax increases, had pushed and praised Bob McDonnell to break his tax pledge to conservatives, suddenly “Stargate” explodes across the front pages?

So let me get this straight: The Post didn’t know anything about it UNTIL A FEW DAYS after the governor signed the transportation tax plan the paper had been pushing for 27 years? Just an amazing coincidence you are telling me? They just happened to find out about what is their biggest “scandal” story in years at the Virginia gubernatorial level basically the moment AFTER they don’t need Bobby Boy anymore. So: You are telling me they didn’t hold the story for fear it might upset the tax package. It just happened to come down that way?  

Thus, I write this morning. This being national poetry month, there seems only one fitting poem for this situation at least as regards His Excellency Bob McDonnell: The Waste Land. Let me confess: I don’t claim to have any real understanding of the work, even though I pretended otherwise in English class. Yeah, I actually read most of it, although not every line, I kinda speed read actually, kinda skipped a page or two…maybe more. Okay, let’s say I tried to read most of it…I read the first line for sure!

Hey, Come On: It is hundreds of lines. This is a poem for gosh sakes, not War and Peace. Give me Robert Frost any day, now there is a dude you can do poetry with. I memorized his stuff no problem, like “Fire and Ice;” that one says it all in what, a dozen or so lines? That’s enough. The Road Not Taken, now that is what Eliot should have done, take the road leading to a short poem, it would have made all the difference. Or better yet: Frank Sinatra had T.S. Eliot’s stuff down in one tune. That’s right, ol’ Blue Eyes. You can spend hours and hours trying wade through The Waste Land, or simply pop in a CD and get the same thing with a better vibe by listening to Frankie boy’s opening verse in That’s Life:

That’s life (that’s life), that’s what all the people say

You’re riding high in April, shot down in May

But I know I’m gonna change that tune

When I’m back on top, back on top in June

See, the same basic stuff: April is the cruelest month, it has all the possibilities of a new season, winter is over, summer is the on the way, it is all starting to look good…and then BOOM. The new Poster Boy for The Waste Land here in Virginia: His Excellency, our Governor, Robert McDonnell.  The Star of the Star Scientific mess. He started the month on Cloud 9: no, make that Cloud 99. I mean Bobby Boy was flying high: he had chased that White Whale of a Transportation Legacy and WON! No Captain Ahab he; Governor McDonnell had his legacy maker, shake that money maker moment, the boy was on fire!

Instead of becoming road kill like Warner and Kaine on transportation, MCD had gotten the taxes for transportation – and then some – both Democrats tried but failed to get. The editorial boards like the Virginian Pilot loved him, the same with the Washington Post, I mean Bobby Boy had done the impossible, got the liberals to love a Pat Robertson conservative!

McAuliffe loved him, meaning Bill Clinton and Hillary were ready to praise, every Democratic Senator was trying to take credit for Bobby Boy’s transportation legacy. The Richmond Times Dispatch said their conservative hero was right to break his pledge not to raise taxes, Bobby Boy made the rounds of the liberal shows on TV basking in their praise.

McDonnell had made it: the right kind of Republican they said, able to deal, to wheel, to steal the spotlight, to do something that had not happened in 27 years in Virginia! They were saying: Senator McDonnell, Vice President McDonnell, hell President McDonnell. Here was conservative who could walk and chew gum at the same time. When McDonnell’s amendments to the transportation bill passed, even opponent Ken Cuccinelli tried to take legal credit for making it happen.

RIDING HIGH IN APRIL.

But T. S. Eliot was right: April is the cruelest month. At least Sinatra was willing to let Bobby Boy enjoy April, all 30 days, before the inevitable. Let His Excellency enjoy the victory lap in China, come back with some contracts, maybe a side trip to North Korea to solve that crisis too.  But T. S. Eliot knew better.

That’s life alright: Here we are, not even two weeks since His Excellency went to sleep with visions of a mighty Transportation legacy dancing in his head, a jealous Jerry Baliles stewing up at UVA, no longer the darling of the road boys, the liberal high taxers, those who praised him for being the right kind of governor. McD had made Gerry yesterday’s news with a bigger and badder road building plan. McD’s aides were gloating: Their guy had done it where the DEMS had not.

THAT WAS JUST YESTERDAY IT SEEMS.

But before the ink was even dry on the governor’s signature to his legacy, a different and competing legacy was growing. The kind of legacy people remember. By the time he had put down the telephone after that laudatory phone call from the Washington Post, someone out of the blue happened to tip off the newspaper’s news jockeys about Bobby and Mrs. Bobby and Star Scientific. So the paper claims.

Sorry: I ain’t buying it. Let’s tell the truth here: The Washington Post sat on the story, afraid it would kill the transportation deal if they put it on the front page before the tax package had been inked. It is cruel out there, April or December, all 12 months in politics. By the end of the month, if His Excellency can not figure out a way to make some lemonade out of lemons, his legacy will not be transportation but the fastest rise and fall in one month in state history for any governor: Riding High in April, Shot down in May.

We repeat what we said right from the start, when others were still trying to figure out what to do: McDonnell either gets ahead of this story, or the story will have his head. He has already waited way too long, but there is still time. Calling a Special Session of the General Assembly to fix Virginia’s campaign disclosure law is the smart play for both Dems and McD, so the only question is who will seize the flag.

Dems don’t have to do anything it is true: McD is the one who needs to change the MO of the game. But keeping the initiative is usually the smart move in any battle, the side pressing the fight tends to win.

Earth to McD’s aides: your boss was set up politically. The Post and others milked him for the taxes, then dumped him. So either you fight back, or you get a role in summer stock doing a reading of The Waste Land, Virginia style.