The drip-drip-drip of embarrassing stories resembles a flood. A headline in Wednesday’s Times-Dispatch reported: “$120K more given to McDonnells.” According to the story by The Washington Post’s Rosalind S. Helderman:
“A prominent political donor gave $70,000 to a corporation owned by Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his sister last year, and the governor did not disclose the money as a gift or a loan, according to people with knowledge of the payments. The donor, wealthy businessman Jonnie Williams Sr., also gave a previously unknown $50,000 check to the governor’s wife, Maureen, in 2011, the people said.”
Virginians ask, “What’s next?”
It is important to note that at this stage the news does not describe the corruption associated with Teapot Dome, Watergate or Tammany Hall. Yet although scandalous, the situation still suggests a corruption of the soul. The reasons do not need to be explained. Indeed, ethics of the highest order do not require explanations. Discretion speaks for itself in a voice still and small.
Circumstances such as those involving the McDonnells reinforce perceptions that politicians are not like the people they represent but exist as a class apart. Great leaders transcend their places and their times — and, probably, themselves — but their numbers are few. The McDonnell malaise would strike no one as transcendental.
McDonnell’s administration boasts accomplishments. McDonnell eased the process for the restoration of voting rights for certain felons who have completed their sentences and repaid their debt to society. He promoted accountability for schools that consistently fail to meet academic benchmarks. And he secured Virginia’s most ambitious transportation package since 1986. McDonnell rates as a consequential governor.
The flood has the potential to overwhelm his reputation. We would not have thought it possible. This is tragedy.