For those of us who care about love and relationships, there’s much we can learn from a public corruption trial currently taking place in Richmond, Virginia. Former Governor Robert McDonnell and his wife Maureen are accused of pocketing about $177,000 in gifts and loans from a businessman in exchange for favors from the governor’s administration. Mr. McDonnell, a vociferous proponent of family values while in office, is using a novel defense for the alleged misdeeds that essentially boils down to this: We’re Not Guilty Because My Wife Is A Crazed Bitch.
You may remember Mr. McDonnell, who used to be a darling of the Republican Party. His critics dubbed him “Governor Ultrasound” for his role in legislation that made trans-vaginal ultrasounds mandatory for women seeking abortions. (The bill was ultimately watered down, after much protest, to allow a woman to opt for an over-the-stomach ultrasound instead.) It turns out that when he wasn’t approving bills for invasive medical procedures, Mr. McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, were busy being showered with gifts by Jonnie R. Williams Sr, the head of a dietary supplement company.
Mr. Williams reportedly had hoped that the McDonnells would help to promote the supplement. Derived from a chemical in tobacco — which right there ought to give pause to anyone older than a toddler — the drug was touted for its “anti-inflammatory” properties in treating Alzheimer’s disease. (A seriously skeptical Food and Drug Administration recently forced its withdrawal from the market.) Mrs. McDonnell allegedly flew to Florida on Mr. Williams’s plane to pitch the drug to potential investors and later hosted a launch party at the governor’s mansion.
It’s funny how these things go. One minute you’re planning a little promotional get-together at your official residence for a businessman friend — and the next thing you know, the friend’s giving you $15,000 to cover the catering costs of your daughter’s wedding. And an engraved Rolex watch. And sets of golf clubs in fancy bags. And loans to help pay down credit card debt. And a $20,000 shopping spree in New York. And a vacation at a luxury resort.
When news of the McDonnells’ alleged misconduct first broke, some stories suggested that the couple felt compelled to try to keep up with the high-rollers they had to entertain. After all, the governor of Virginia pulls in only $175,000 a year, according to Ballotpedia — the fourth-highest gubernatorial salary in the country. He and his family have to live in state-provided housing: the Executive Mansion, a stately Federalist home done in pale yellow brick. It comes with a chef and household staff. And there’s an official car, driven by a chauffeur.
In his testimony, Mr. McDonnell acknowledged being the recipient of Mr. Williams’s largess, but emphatically denied conspiring with his wife to trade the favors of his office for the gifts. His 38-year marriage to her was simply too broken for the two to boil an egg together, much less hatch any kind of a plot. By his accounting, the couple barely spoke. Mrs. McDonnell was emotionally estranged from him. She resented the time he devoted to his job. She ranted at her household staff. She developed a “crush” on Mr. Williams. She spent hours talking on the phone with him, to the exclusion of her own husband. As proof of the impairment, McDonnell has even moved out of the family home and is now living with his parish priest in a rectory.
What we have here is the old dog-ate-my-homework defense taken to a whole new level. We should all be excited about this. Because if the jury buys it and finds the McDonnells innocent, think of the possibilities it opens up for the rest of us. Finally, a use for our dysfunctional relationships: a get-out-of-jail-free card.