by Paul Goldman
Our Gifted Governor and his W—-T—– First Lady have forced Virginians to look into the mirror and face reality: the growing money corruption in our politics can no longer be denied. “How many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see” sang Bob Dylan many years ago. I can still remember today first hearing his voice and telling myself: “Damn Paul, you’ve got a better voice than that Jewish Zimmerman guy from the Ukraine.” Well, the band never quite worked out, the folk singing either. Still got the demo somewhere I think. Maybe not…it really isn’t important, at least for this column.
Recently, Bob Dylan had this to say about the state we are in here in Virginia:
“People are crazy and times are strange
I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range
I used to care, but things have changed”
Bob (Dylan, that is) has a point. The First Family of Virginia, their benefactor Jonnie Williams, are crazy to think they could fly under the radar forever. The Governor’s face of 2013 surely says times are strange, that 2013 politically is surely out of range of anything approaching the normative in GUV races.
So yes, it is easy not to care, to drop out, to tune out, saying “things have changed” and protest by not voting. I get it, sorta.
EXCEPT: Things have not changed, in truth the 2013 politics is the same, the only difference is the convergence of events, not the forces at play. Or as George Clooney might say: It is “A Perfect Storm” by the good movie of the same name. Clooney was believable in that movie the way he wasn’t in The American.
Let’s be brutally honest: More than the editorial writers want to admit, in VA politics today, Money Talks.
The same for Congress. The only difference is that the media can’t now both claim to be appalled by what they see in Washington and thankful about what they don’t see in Virginia. They could always see it in Virginia: but until the McDonnell Mess, they could alibi the situation by claims Virginia had never “jumped the shark.”
That excuse is gone. Let me ask you: Governor McDonnell raised over $23 million LARGE to run for Governor. Many of those who gave him big bucks have been appointed to sough-after public positions. Are you telling me that this was coincidental? I would hope you have more respect for my intelligence. But even if not, then at least give me credit for not being totally brain dead.
Let’s me honest: sleazy “business” guys like Williams – and in truth he isn’t a real business man so I apologize to legit business folks but it is what he calls himself – have long collecting their “cut” at the intersection where political power meets political access meets big money.
What Jonnie Williams did – pay to play, use his access to leverage public power for personal profit – isn’t new in Virginia. What is new, in terms of public perception, is the revelation of a Williams type having so much influence over the Governor. That’s new for us. However, in many states, there has been a Jonnie Williams type ELECTED GOVERNOR: Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, the list goes on.
McDonnell is not Jonnie Williams: but he and his wife were a little too greedy for their own good, and have done great harm to a storied Office.
HOWEVER: The basis of our legal system is captured in this phrase: Better a 100 guilty men go free than 1 innocent man get convicted.
As a society, we have accepted that candidates have to raise a lot of money to run for high office. The public rejects public financing of said elections and in Virginia, we have rejected any caps of what an individual or business entity may contribute. We have laws that allow all kinds of perks and benefits to the elected elite. Given our political culture, and the de facto if not de jure right we give those with wealth to influence our leaders, it always comes down to the judgment of the person in the Mansion, and I guess now, his wife too.
Bob and Maureen crossed the line, they embarrassed themselves, they have held Virginia up to national ridicule in that regard.
BUT; Does this make them criminals?
I say NO, based on what is in the newspaper’s so far, and the logical inferences to be drawn therefrom. It may be that the federal prosecutors have more damaging hard facts, more witnesses, maybe they have phone taps, secretly recorded conversations, documentary evidence or the like. If so, then like any writer, I retain the common sense to process new information and arrive at a new conclusion.
BUT: As of right now – assuming nothing else of significance to be added – the McDonnell’s should NOT be indicted even though I believe they are legally guilty.
Why? Three reasons.
(1) The use of political access to public power to gain personal riches usually at the expense of the public [like selling stock for way above its value] is epidemic in America. Epidemic. Like it or not, Bob McDonnell is a conservative Republican. He is being investigated by a Democratic Administration. They need to have a slam dunk case against him because if they bring charges – and they lose – then the irony is that the culture of corruption could actually be benefited because of increased public cynicism with the system. So if all the feds have is what the papers are reporting, I say we leave it to the voters to meet out the punishment.
2) I refuse to engage in the fiction that a Governor doesn’t try as best he can to help those he considers a friend. So of course McDonnell is going to try and help Jonnie Williams, as he has dozens of legitimate business men and women. The only difference really: Williams is a quick-buck guy with a not-so-legit diet supplement product not ready for prime time. His business is merging political access and cash for personal profit. I am not a big fan of selective prosecution. McDonnell appears not to have directly given Williams anything unique, and while intentional, “gaming” the system to hide William’s gifts is not illegal per se.
3) Like it or not, Governor McDonnell deserves the benefit of the doubt as to his criminal intent without a lot better hard proof than we have read in the newspaper. Without more, the key piece of evidence appears to be what Jonnie Williams’ had in mind when making the “gifts.” But making it a crime for X based on what Y might be thinking strikes me as a risky place for our prosecutors to go. It is too much of a gray area for me to allow the government to make it criminal with just the word of Jonnie the Rat.
BOTTOM LINE: We have tolerated, we continue to tolerate, the cozy, money grubbing associations of public offices with “business” hustlers and shady characters like Mr. Williams. We tolerate their using their access for personal gain at the expense of the public. As Bob Dylan said, this has been “blowing in the wind” for a long time.
Well, the wind storm is at the door of the Governor’s Mansion. We can indict McDonnell, hold a “Bob for Jobs” trial here in Richmond federal court. We can add his wife as a defendant, trot in Jonnie Williams, and see if he and the prosecutors can convince a jury that this has not been selective prosecution, that there is real outrage in the legal system, and that the McDonnells must be held to account as a symbol of such.
I get it: But I am not “down” with that, if I want to watch Blurred Lines, I will watch the x-rated video, and ask myself: “Why didn’t I return her phone call?” (Probably because she didn’t call.)
The point being: We have in Virginia accepted the Blurred Lines at the intersection of political access/influence and public power/personal gain. We pretend otherwise, but I write an adult column here, not one for teenagers. If we were sincere in our outrage, if the politicians really wanted to show they disapprove, then we would be having a Special Session PRIOR to the coming gubernatorial election to force those running to put it all out there: their associations, sources of money, the whole nine yards.
But the newspapers aren’t calling for that, the alleged outraged politicians are not doing that, and I could go down the line. Instead, they want a “show” trial of the Governor, of the ex-Mansion chief, and whatever else, even the First Lady. I think the public wants real reform far more than a show trial. Those running for office seems to disagree with me. We shall see. I think Deep Throat gave good advice during the Watergate Scandal: follow the money.
When the media gets serious about following the money, forcing all the people on the ballot – statewide, GA, local – to lay out their business connections, where the money comes from, to in effect expose any connection to a Jonnie Williams, then I will say: Indict the McDonnell’s if you have the proof.
But until then, until I feel this is not a really a show trial to pretend the leaders of the system “really care”: then count me out. We are already sending too many people to jail for “political correctness” to “show” we really are tough on stuff. I am not impressed, either was Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.
McDonnell has disgraced himself. His alibi doesn’t hold up. But if we aren’t prepared to hold those who want to be Governor to the right standard prior to the 2013 election, then I see no courage nor honor in conducting all these show trials, I stand with John Adams on that, and John Marshall who had the courage to dismiss treason charges against Aaron Burr.
I am much more concerned about the values of the next Governor, and care nothing about the values of the McDonnell’s at this point. The people of Virginia, I believe, are on my side of this equation. That’s why Cuccinelli needs to return the Williams stuff despite what the Democratic prosecutor of Richmond said, and McAuliffe needs to answer the questions about GreenTech raised by the Kaine Administration.
To me, this is a no-brainer. If their advisors think this stuff can go away in light of the McDonnell Mess, then don’t listen to me: just read between the lines of the major editorial boards of the major state and national newspapers. It is going to come out, one way or another, the newspapers will force it out. That’s what they are saying. McDonnell thought he could hide the truth. In 2013, that option is no longer available to anyone.