Only two states, New Jersey and Virginia, hold their gubernatorial elections in odd-numbered years. That, combined with the latter's proximity to D.C. and the national media, mean that anyone elected governor of Virginia almost automatically gets mentioned as a potential presidential candidate, or at least a potential running mate. So it was when Bob McDonnell took office in Richmond, as it had been for Tim Kaine, Mark Warner, George Allen, and others before them. But as his term winds down, McDonnell is enmeshed in a scandal so venal, so base, so old-timey that it's a wonder to behold.
Here's what we mean by old-timey. Though the average voter may not believe it, American politics today is much less corrupt overall than it was 50 or 100 years ago. The days when a railroad baron would deliver to a senator a satchel full of cash in exchange for his consideration are long past. Laws on financial disclosure and campaign records, combined with the attention of a larger news media and the generally heightened transparency of contemporary life, simply make the giving and taking of bribes much more difficult to accomplish.
But then there's Bob McDonnell and his good friend Jonnie Williams, CEO of a company called Star Scientific, maker of dietary supplements, facial creams, and other lightly regulated "health" products. Suffice it to say that Williams is very, very fond of McDonnell and his family, so fond that he has showered the McDonnells with $145,000 in gifts and loans over the last few years. If one of your kids is getting married, you definitely want to put Jonnie Williams on the invite list; he paid for the catering at one of McDonnell's daughter's wedding to the tune of $15,000, and gave the other daughter $10,000 on the occasion of her nuptials.
That's the quid, but is there a quo? Investigations continue, but it's already known that the governor's wife has displayed an enthusiasm for the Star Scientific supplement called Anatabloc, touting it at a Florida investor's conference and holding a launch party for the product at the governor's mansion. And today's Washington Post reports that Mrs. McDonnell arranged two meetings between Williams and state health officials to tout Anatabloc's wonders.
Perhaps once all is said and done, Bob McDonnell will be found to have done nothing wrong, apart from having an open heart (and bank account) when it comes to others' generosity, and he won't leave the governor's mansion for a stay in less grand accommodations courtesy of the Virginia Department of Corrections. But one thing's for sure: he won't be visiting Iowa in advance of the 2016 caucuses.
And in case you were wondering, the GOP nominee to replace McDonnell, Ken Cuccinelli, has his own relationship with Jonnie Williams. Not only does he own $10,000 in Star Scientific stock, Cuccinelli has aggressively sought gifts from the famously generous CEO. According to a just-released prosecutor's report, they included "roughly $5,000 in gifts from Williams: airfare to New York City on Williams' private jet, a catered Thanksgiving dinner, as well as a vacations at Williams' Smith Mountain Lake home. Herring's report notes that Cuccinelli asked Williams for the use of his vacation property in 2012 and to host his family at the lake home in 2010 for Thanksgiving in 2010." Not too shabby.
SO THEY SAY
Abdulrahman was born in Denver. He lived in America until he was 7, then came to live with me in Yemen. He was a typical teenager — he watched “The Simpsons,” listened to Snoop Dogg, read Harry Potter and had a Facebook page with many friends. He had a mop of curly hair, glasses like me and a wide, goofy smile.
In 2010, the Obama administration put Abdulrahman’s father, my son Anwar, on C.I.A. and Pentagon “kill lists” of suspected terrorists targeted for death. A drone took his life on Sept. 30, 2011.
—Nasser al-Awlaki, grandfather of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki
DAILY MEME: BASKING IN THE BIDEN
- GQ just published a new profile of Joe Biden. Everyone else seems to see this as an opportunity to speculate on what he's thinking about 2016
- For the record, Biden says, "I can die a happy man never having been president of the United States of America. But it doesn't mean I won't run. ... The judgment I'll make is, first of all, am I still as full of as much energy as I have now—do I feel this? Number two, do I think I'm the best person in the position to move the ball? And, you know, we'll see where the hell I am."
- We see this instead as an opportunity to bask in all that is Biden, Al Roker-style ... which is likely GQ's excuse for writing the profile too. Magazine stories about the vice president seem to drop more frequently than new Fast and Furious sequels.
- And only God challenges Joe Biden's reign as the King of The Onion.
- Even Republicans can't help but love him. Even John McCain!
- Even though the less than successful presidential candidate did throw some shadein the GQ profile: "Of course, the State of the Union speech would be the longest in history."
- The swearing-in ceremony will likely be the high point of these senators' careers.
- He knows how to commemorate an important political moment with verve.
- He is the Monet of campaigning...
- ... even though his well-intentioned one-liners are sometimes taken a tad too literally.
- But, at Biden's core is a deep love for the people he represents, which tend to override any jokes we may make at his expense—or join him in enjoying.
WHAT WE'RE WRITING
- With help from the former vice president, his daughter is running for Senate. Matt Duss writes that this has set off the next round of intra-GOP fighting over foreign policy.
- In a case challenging the Obama administration's contraception mandate, a court finds that for-profit companies have free-exercise rights under the First Amendment. Sarah Posner looks at Hobby Lobby, the company at the heart of the legal challenge.
WHAT WE'RE READING
- And the confirmations keep rolling in! We have a new secretary of labor, folks.
- The New York Times goes through the long, storied past of American politicians getting elected despite scandal. It's an entertaining, if exasperating read.
- Have you listened to Jay-Z's new album yet? If not, this Florida Republican highly recommends it.
- Is there any difference between writing about sports and writing abour politics?
- While BP is harping over fraudulent compensation claims regarding the oil spill three years ago, it has since come out that two of the lawyers working to administer claims has been fired "after apparently intervening in the processing of claims in which they appear to have had a financial stake.”
- A bipartisan group of senators has finally reached a deal on student loans.
- The Atlantic chronicles how Evangelicals, both liberal and conservative, have become an influential force in pushing comprehensive immigration reform. Since 2005, Evangelicals have been going through a shift on policy and now see the cause as a pro-family issue. Many believe that they can serve as the conduit to the House on reform.
- Residents of the Mareb area in Yemen say they live in constant fear of drone strikes after the accidental deaths of some people in the area.
- These representatives haven't been raising much money. Is retirement impending?
POLL OF THE DAY
Just before the Zimmerman trial’s verdict was released, a Gallup poll discovered that 52 percent of black people polled felt dissatisfied with their treatment in society. Though over half disapprove, the poll shows significant improvement from before Barack Obama was elected president, when dissatisfaction among black people was 68 percent. Each year since then, approval (currently at 47 percent) has increased, and disapproval has waned.