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On a Scale of 1-10, How Much Do I Care About the McDonnells’ Trial?


I know, I know, I’m supposed to be utterly enthralled by the trial of Bob and Maureen McDonnell. Scandal! Intrigue! He said! She said! Affair(s)! Or not! Corruption! New York shopping trips! Ferraris! Rolexes! $10,000 wedding gifts!


Sorry, but on a scale of 1-10, where 10 is absolutely rapt attention and 1 is a snoozefest, I’m probably at a 3 or 4 max right now with this pathetic trial of grifters, trashy/shallow/vapid losers, liars and tawdry slimeballs.

Why don’t I care? First off, I have never liked soap operas. Or TV. Or gossip about who’s dating who in Hollywood. Or tons of stuff that most Americans apparently find fascinating. Sure, there’s some “schadenfreude” (great German word) for yet another right-wing “family values” politician (once dubbed “Taliban Bob”, by journalist Jim Spencer of the Daily Press, for T-Bob’s persecution of a lesbian judge under Virginia’s bizarre “crimes against nature” laws) proven to be a massive hypocrite, but other than that…meh.

Second, other than their friends and families (and the high-priced attorneys involved in this case), who cares what happens to the McDonnells at this point? They have no power, nor are they ever likely to have power or a political future again, regardless of the outcome in this case. Why do I say that? Because, even prior to the case itself, the McDonnells’ once squeaky-clean image — one that I never bought but a lot of Virginians did for some strange reason — was down the toilet bowl and long gone into the sewage treatment plant. The point is, the McDonnells’ trial is not like the case of Rod Blagojevich, who was still Governor of Illinois when he “was arrested at his home by federal agents and charged with corruption,” followed by the Illinois House voting 114-1 (with three abstentions) to impeach the guy. Now THAT was both dramatic AND had real political implications. In the case of the McDonnells, at this point, I’m not seeing any political implications to them, no matter what happens in this trial.

Third, I actually find the attention being given to the McDonnells’ trial to be harmful, in the sense that it’s sucking up media oxygen on idiocy and frivolity (the “crush” defense? Maureen staring “raptly” at Jonnie Williams? seriously?!? I know the media loves the “freak show” and frivolity, but just…barf!), while truly important issues are ignored. Most relevant to this case, the issue that we SHOULD be focused on is why Virginia’s ethics laws are so pathetically weak (our state received an F grade from the Center for Public Integrity and others), and why it’s so hard to get our General Assembly to strengthen them? How about a total ban on all gifts – tangible, in kind; travel, meals, entertainment; whatever – to elected officials? Also note that, as a ProgressVA investigation found, “the law would not have prevented any of the 756 gifts received by lawmakers in 2012.” So what are we doing about this situation? More broadly, what are we doing to rein in all the money from corporations, lobbyists, and wealthy individuals that’s sloshing around our state government? So far, basically nothing, and this soap opera of Jonnie Williams and the McDonnells isn’t moving us any closer in that direction, as far as I can determine.

Finally, while the press is expending significant resources covering this trial’s blow-by-blow, he-said-she-said idiocy, there are important elections coming up in Virginia for the House of Delegates and State Senate, which will have serious implications for the balance of power in the latter legislative body. It also would be interesting if some of the journalistic “juice” now focused on the McDonnells’ pathetic soap opera could, for instance, take a look at the extreme positions of Dave Brat, or why the Republican Party of Virginia can’t seem to (or doesn’t want to) get rid of the raving bigot who serves as the party’s Treasurer, or a serious review of the damage Eric Can’tor has done to our country during his time in the U.S. House of Representatives, or a million other topics more important than the has-been, will-never-be-again McDonnells.

So yeah, as a Virginia political blogger, I guess I’m supposed to be watching this trial with rapt attention. Yet for the reasons listed above, and more, I just can’t bring myself to care that much.

P.S. If you DO care about this trial, Del. Scott Surovell has some thoughts on week #1 (gack, only week #1?!?). Enjoy (?).

  • totallynext

    We sure as hell should care about the highest office in Virginia being up for sale.

    Yes the McDonnells won’t be around for future political aspirations – but gosh darn it – this was done while in office and each and everyone of us should give a SHI! about this type of graft and buying of our elected officials.

  • Elaine in Roanoke

    This whole trial is just one more example of how news media relishes a good soap opera above covering actual, hard news. I guess it has always been thusly, considering human nature and people’s desire to gossip. I, too, wish we could have some news stories focused on the lack of ethics laws in Virginia. Even the paltry “laws” we have allow people like McDonnell, et al, to “revise” reports of gifts to the state when they get caught not reporting stuff, no matter how large the error is. As you point out, someone should be asking why the General Assembly refuses to pass genuine ethics legislation. Is it because far too many members are also guilty of ethics lapses?

    I have always found it interesting that people consider a state like Illinois to be corrupt, even though four of the last seven governors were convicted of corruption and imprisoned. The state must have laws that have been broken. Heck, in Virginia it’s simply “business as usual.” We don’t know who is corrupt and who is not because there are no real laws to break.

    Some aspects of the trial so far simply disgust me. Why in the world is it of any importance that Maureen McDonnell once was a Washington Red****s cheerleader? She stared “raptly”? What does that mean? She – a middle-aged woman – has “crushes” on men? Oh, well. The fact that I can complain about the foolishness and the innate sexism of those “reports” just means I am paying far too much attention to this whole mess.

  • Andy Schmookler

    First, I agree with totallynext and Elaine in Roanoke that this case brings into focus the money/corruption/ethics issue for Virginia politics. And of course, it is an issue — a Godzilla of an issue — in American politics generally.

    So the case is potentially important as a means of putting a spotlight on that problem, and on the need for reforms/laws that address it. The fact that Virginia legislators have thus far failed to rise to the occasion does not diminish that potential importance.

    But second, I believe that there’s another important part of the dark political reality of our times that this trial brings to the fore. It’s one that you, Lowell, conjure up briefly with your mention of McDonnell being shown to be a “massive hypocrite” by this tawdry saga.

    If this were just an isolated instance of hypocrisy, then it might be fitting to regard it as mere “gossip” of the People Magazine sort. But we’re living in an era of American history in which a force has arisen on the right that specializes in the pious pretenses of being defenders of values that are the very opposite of what are being lived and promoted.

    Just over a week ago, a piece of mine ran here on Blue Virginia under the title, “The Fraudulence of the Republican Party, and the Adverse Shift in the Balance Between Good and Evil.” It’s thesis is that today’s Republican Party sells itself to its supporters as being conservative, patriotic, and the defenders of Christian values, but that — as I attempt to show — it is really the opposite of all those.

    Is Bob McDonnell’s family life, when seen in the context of how he sold himself to Virginia, and in the context of his connection with Pat Robertson’s form of “Christianity,” not part of that larger picture?

    In a democracy, the way that an evil force gains power is through the lie. The way that power can be drained away from it is for more people to be able to see through the lie.

    Every time that the hypocrisy of these con men gets exposed by the glare of the public spotlight, it is an opportunity for more people to see this pattern of deception.

    Bob McDonnell’s trial represents one of those opportunities to expose that pattern. And for that reason, I think the trial and good coverage of it are important.