The 19th-century poet William Wordsworth lamented, “The world is too much with us.” True that. It’s all too easy these days to overload on ISIS, Ferguson, Ukraine, Gaza, and Ebola – and risk driving yourself nuts. My advice is that you take a break and cruise the news for something more fun.
Take, for instance, the sordid saga of the fightin’ feudin’ McDonnells.
For lo the past month, their federal trial has been the gift that keeps on giving. Bob McDonnell is the ex-Virginia governor, a former rising Republican golden boy and conservative family man who was short-listed by Mitt Romney for the ’12 veep slot; Maureen McDonnell is his wife, who cameo-appeared in campaign ads as the smiling helpmate. Bob has been slapped with a 14-count corruption indictment, alleging that he did government favors for a vitamin hustler who gave him cool stuff, but Bob’s defense – unveiled in person on the stand yesterday – is that it was all Maureen’s dastardly doings.
What we have here is the most conscious uncoupling since Gwyneth and Chris. It’s tempting to joke that Bob’s bid to throw Maureen under the bus is further evidence of the Republican “war on women.” But let’s just refer to it as Bob’s war on woman.
Some couples have his and her towels, his and her bathrooms, his and her bedrooms. Bob and Maureen have his and her legal teams.
When we last checked in with the McDonnells – on this blog three weeks ago – prosecutors had submitted evidence showing how Governor Bob had greased the government wheels for Jonnie Williams, the vitamin hustler. Bob set up meetings with state officials so that Jonnie could push his products, he arranged for Jonnie to have a product launch at the governor’s mansion, he arranged to have a Jonnie product placed in National Governors Association goodie bags, and he bought $30,000 in shares of Jonnie’s company. Meanwhile, Jonnie had already given Bob (among other things) a $6500 Rolex watch, loaned Bob his Ferrari to tool around in, paid for Bob’s golf outings, chartered Bob a yacht, and spent $15,000 on the wedding of one of Bob’s daughter’s.
Jonnie also took Bob’s wife shopping in New York (price tag, 20 grand), buying Maureen all kinds of designer dresses…ah, ha. Now we come to the crux of Bob’s legal defense. In so many words, it goes something like this: “Yeah, I know Jonnie lavished us with $177,000 in gifts, loans, and cash – but I didn’t do nuthin’, I never conspired with her to trade gifts for government favors because my marriage was too dysfunctional! I was led astray by a crazy lady!”
Bob took the stand yesterday and basically said as much. (Subliminal message to the mostly male jury: You guys know how crazy these women can be, and how they can twist a moral man.) And to buttress the moral-man message, Bob is being accompanied to court each day by a Catholic priest, which is a nice touch.
Yes, Maureen ran the house and raised Bob’s kids while he rose in the political ranks, and, yes, Bob used her as a smiling prop in his gubernatorial campaign ads – but, he testified yesterday, Mauren was a “tense” first lady, she “wasn’t as happy as I was,” and she complained so much about money that it exhausted his “skill set.” At night, he’d stay away from the royal chamber until she went to sleep; in his words, “I couldn’t come home to listen to that.”
In Bob’s telling, Jonnie Williams stepped into the martial void and lavished Maureen with oddles of attention. In return, she was flirty. So flirty that when Virginia was rocked by an earthquake, she emailed Jonnie, “I just felt the earth move, and I wasn’t having sex!!!!”
Bob said yesterday that he was bugged by Maureen’s proximity to Jonnie (“I was actually hurt”), but when asked whether he thought that Maureen canoodled with Jonnie, he said, “No, I don’t believe so,” and we can all surely agree that this testimony from a guy once touted as a presidential prospect is better suited for Dr. Phil or Oprah’s couch.
But this is how Bob has chosen to play it. He could’ve safeguarded his family’s dignity last winter by copping a plea – he was offered a deal, to plead guilty to one count of felony fraud – but no. He decided instead to try to save his butt by heaping all blame on his wife. The jury will have to decide whether Bob is a crook, but we already know that he’s quite the cad. Perhaps they should amend the state slogan, “Virginia is for Lovers.”
And the next time some candidate touts his spouse in the standard campaign tableau, maybe we should all reach for the barf bag.
Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.