An Afghan pesh-kabz
An Afghan pesh-kabz

by James A. Bacon

There is a rising tide in the op-ed pages, TV commentary and blog commentary that former Governor Bob McDonnell is a brutish, swinish cad for portraying his wife Maureen as the heavy in the corruption trial. You’ve got to love liberals. They’re so very compassionate…  until they’re talking about their wounded enemies. Then, like the Afghan women in the Rudyard Kipling poem, “The Young British Soldier,” they scour the battlefield to “cut up what remains.”

If Maureen and Bob McDonnell had been Democrats instead of Republicans, we would be treated to a litany of perspectives on the heavy toll of political life upon the marriages of elected officials, the unambiguous signs that Maureen was suffering from depression, and speculation from mental health experts to provide subtlety, nuance and context to the story.

No such compassion is accorded McDonnell, who now is being depicted as a man who “betrayed” his wife and was willing to “flay” her character in order to save himself, just to cite the observations of Petula Dvorak and her headline writer in the Washington Post. (Bacon’s Rebellion‘s very own Peter Galuszka is no kinder.)

Here’s the question I would pose to them. If you were in McDonnell’s shoes, and if the marriage were the shambles he says it was, and if Maureen was indeed the one who solicited the gifts and loans from former Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams, Sr., and if you truly believed yourself to be innocent of any illegality, what would you have done? Would you have, in Dvorak’s words, “manned up” and taken the plea agreement offered by prosecutors before the trial? How many people would admit to a crime they believed they did not commit?

Who really bears the moral onus here? McDonnell, for defending himself, or the prosecutors, who (a) proceeded with a case that’s looking flimsier by the day, and (b) called the witnesses whose testimony trashed Maureen’s reputation before McDonnell breathed a word?

McDonnell bears his share of blame for the failing marriage, as he seemed willing to concede on the witness stand yesterday. Maureen was happy living in Virginia Beach before he rose to statewide political prominence. He asked her to sacrifice a lot for his political career, giving up her cozy network of friends and her part-time job selling vitamin supplements. When he first moved to Richmond, the family lived apart while the kids finished high school. As attorney general and especially as governor, he traveled constantly and spent half his nights away from his wife and family. He insisted she use a small inheritance to pay down credit card bills. When Maureen expressed her increasing unhappiness by nagging and throwing tantrums, he withdrew from her, often spending extra time at the office. Emotionally exhausted from the confrontations, he did not question some of Maureen’s activities that he should have questioned — it was easier just to look the other way.

But McDonnells’ critics don’t mention any of these all-to-human failings that probably could describe thousands, even millions, of American men at some point in their marriages. Liberals bring out the long knives. They move in for the kill, portraying their weakened foes as morally reprehensible, as less than human.

In his poem, Kipling advised the wounded English soldier, “Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains.” McDonnell did not roll over. Perhaps that was his worst affront of all.

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29 responses to “Bringing out the Knives”

  1. people who espouse family and conservative “values” talk about “man-ing up” and taking personal responsibility but then they act like immoral weasels…

    How can you have a “failed marriage” where there is “no conversation” and yet get rolex’s for Christmas and drive around in a Ferrari with the wife you cannot speak to because she’s always yelling at you and golf goodies from the guy she has become a kindred soul with?

    this is not about liberal or conservative – it’s about bad character – and hypocrisy – spun for the gullible.

    For the sake of the “liberal” crutch here – please tell me the last “liberal” gov in Virginia who got “sympathy” for the toll the job was taking on his family.
    Maybe Phil Hamilton or Puckett should have used that tactic but there is one important difference – both of them are not foolish enough to promote such a cynical excuse for their actions.

    if they gave awards for the biggest pile of poop – this would win hands down and there would be, apparently, hot competition for Rube of the Year.

    anyone who believes this odoriferous offal – needs our sympathy.

    what does a guy say to a wife he cannot speak to who presents him with a Rolex? Thanks, hun, did you read my email?

  2. There is one liberal criticism of McDonnell that I do believe is valid: It *was* hypocritical of him running gubernatorial campaign ads portraying the McDonnell clan as one big happy family when, in fact, the marriage had serious problems. Of course, those problems weren’t as severe and intractable as they would become once the family moved into the governor’s mansion. Still, they were deceptive in the extreme.

  3. The hypocrisy charge against liberals does, of course, have some validity, just as it does, in a host of cases, against right wingers (we don’t have many conservatives in America). But it’s not helpful to polarize our condition further with what I believe is needless flaying of “liberals” in the face of the McDonnell travesty. Why not judge this matter on its merits and leave the polarizing aside. It’s also speculative, because I don’t recall an incident similar to his among Democratic politicians to test the theory of wife-bashing in court by a husband seeking judicial relief. The opportunity for a mild felony charge to save his family, and, yes, himself, from ridicule and disgrace was foolishly ignored. That’s what makes McDonnell an even more pathetic, and reprehensible fellow.

    1. re: ” Why not judge this matter on its merits and leave the polarizing aside.”

      well .. because.. it’s easier to throw the liberal trope than to actually deal with the merits of the issue.

      there are no similar “liberal” equivalences but that don’t stop the “you bad liberals” blather.

      McDonnell is one odious guy.. it was, from the beginning, all about HIS “calling” and Maureen was to play the Harriet Role and when she rebelled – well of course it just totally screwed up Bob’s political “legacy”.

      Some folks are calling his testimony – “stomach churning” .. which I support has two meanings…

  4. NoVaShenandoah Avatar

    It’s a question of VALUES: Conservatives and their friends love to lecture everyone. We even have the ‘Values Voters’. Well … those of us who are apparently worthless or amoral do indeed take notice of the true values of the Conservatives and their friends. Afterall, it is not important what you say you believe in, it is important how you act! With that measure, Conservatives and their friends are just hypocrites.

    1. NoVa Shenandoah, you’re right. Conservatives are hypocrites when they run on “family values” and fall grievously short. McDonnell is fairly labeled a hypocrite in this regard.

      Liberals are hypocrites when they preach “compassion” but show none to their political and philosophical adversaries. It’s easy to be compassionate to your friends, not so easy to be compassionate to your enemies.

      1. re: ” Liberals are hypocrites when they preach “compassion” but show none to their political and philosophical adversaries. It’s easy to be compassionate to your friends, not so easy to be compassionate to your enemies.”

        liberals own the “compassion” value? Who knew?

        Liberals are compassionate about those who are deserving of compassion – but does that mean Conservatives are not?

        I’m confused here.

        both sides – should abhor hypocrites – but Bacon seems to think that hypocrites deserve compassion… and that liberals have compassion only for liberal hypocrites?

        good gawd o’mighty!

        McDonnell is a self-aggrandizing sexist scumbag… his wife SHOULD BE yelling at him.. ! He represents the worst of a bygone “Father knows best” mythology. Maureen had FIVE kids – and helped raise them all – for decades – while her husband was busy pursuing his self-described “public-service calling”. Such arrogance!

        When YOU are a husband to a Women who dedicated her life to you – you keep your trap shut about “her” “failings”

        the man is a cad.

        tell me again.. why McDonnell _deserves_ compassion?

          1. ” When YOU are a husband to a Women who dedicated her life to you – you keep your trap shut about “her” “failings””

            let me make clear – I don’t care about your politics when you treat another human – namely your wife and mother of your 5 kids – like this.

            it’s unacceptable no matter your political philosophy.

            and why such despicable behavior deserves “compassion” is comical.

            where the “politics” comes in – is when you align yourself with “Family Values” and then conduct yourself this way – but again – this is not left or right – it’s purely the hypocrisy of saying you are a “family values” person and then doing things like this.

            and where exactly is the defense team headed with this? DO I want to know after they have said – trash your wife of your 5 kids.

            it’s like – shut up and sit down.. and rest your case – PLEASE!

          2. one hopes this is a sign of real desperation on the defense part – because if they actually have other stuff – and they still chose to do a “dump” of Bob and Maureen’s personal relationship – I seriously question their judgement as well as Bob’s own morals for agreeing to do it. This is beyond the pale.

            what is the real point of this other than to demean and humiliate – another human being who just happens to be the one you have shared your life with – to shift the blame to ? It’s breathtakingly asinine.

            anyone with one ounce of marital experience KNOWS that a marriage is a melding of two flawed people… both trying to work with those flaws and blaming the other exclusively in a public venue no less, is a sure-fire way to guaran-dam-teed firebomb the relationship or whatever is left of it.

            I don’t know where McDonnell got the “values” he claims, but – he was taught wrong and apparently he has a dysfunctional moral compass…

            it’s damn hard to walk away from a relationship that was working at one point.. it’s a huge failure and not something you normally confess to crowds of folks…

            The only difference political here for me is that one side does not usually go strutting it’s family values cred all the time. I’d have exactly the same disdain and contempt for anyone who treated their spouse this way whether they were left, right purple, you name it.

            I was brought up to not treat others the way that Maureen is being treated much less in a public venue.

            She was certainly no saint – but she pretty much submerged her own life to promote Bob’s career… and something went wrong.. who knows what – who wants to know – but Bob is insisting that we know -and that he – was – the “victim”. What a small person he has become.

    2. yes… but when you bring this issue up with a Conservative – like Bacon – he says that those are not the kinds of Conservatives that he supports or hangs with.. it’s some other group…

      it’s part of their basic finger-pointing behavior when caught red-handed!

      its always much more comfortable to claim its liberals – even if the Liberals have never spent their time blathering about “values” to start with –

      it don’t matter.

      a basic liberal is twice as bad as the worst values Conservative hypocrite – any day of the week!

      welcome to the world of modern-day Conservatism.


  5. Confusion reigns supreme.

    Point 1 – Bob McDonnell should have accepted a plea deal to a charge that has been pretty clearly proven false. Really?

    Point 2 – He should accept guilt on a false charge because of loyalty to his wife. This is the same wife who apparently made everybody round her miserable including her subordinates and husband. The same wife who was apparently lusting after Jonnie Williams. That’s who Bob McDonnell should protect from the reality of her own actions by going to jail. Really?

    Point 3 – Maureen McDonnell had no say in the defense strategy. She was forced to follow this strategy by Bob McDonnell. The same woman who threw temper tantrums at family and staff alike and hid gifts from her husband suddenly is incapable of expressing her will during discussions over the defense strategy. Really?

    Point 4 – Bob McDonnell sailed his wife down the river with his defense strategy. This happened when prosecutors asked questions of witnesses under oath who answered the questions honestly. Bob told the prosecutors what witnesses to call, what questions to ask and told the witnesses what answers to give. Really?

    I guess none of you have ever lived with someone who went through violent mood swings and could scream and yell for hours over anything … or nothing at all. Lucky you. I guess none of you have ever lived with someone who could be laughing one minute and screaming like a banshee the next. Lucky you.

    Trust me, you’ll do almost anything to avoid dealing with that person.

    As for going to jail to protect that person’s well deserved reputation as a loon – that almost comically ridiculous.

    1. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

      Sure I have, I called him “Dad” and moved out the first chance I got when I was still a teenager without a governor’s salary.

    2. re: ” I guess none of you have ever lived with someone who went through violent mood swings and could scream and yell for hours over anything … or nothing at all. Lucky you. I guess none of you have ever lived with someone who could be laughing one minute and screaming like a banshee the next. Lucky you.”

      How about that person is your spouse of almost 40 years and has born 5 children with you – and gave of herself to promote your career?

      and if it comes to that – do you go on Nationwide TV to blame her for your own failings – depicting yourself as a victim of your wife of almost 40 years?

      there are ways to dissolve failed relationships .. this is not a particular good way to do that and proclaiming yourself as an innocent victim is wretched.

      If their relationship was turning destructive – they needed to get out of it… quietly and personally.

  6. Richard Avatar

    More democrat baiting. Fun!

  7. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

    Yeah, I remember how Democrats came rushing to the defense of Eliot Spitzer, Anthony Weiner, and John Edwards and how all those guys are in seats of power and prestige within the party. So now that you’ve dispatched those strawmen let’s move on…

    …to where you completely misrepresent Dvorak’s point, which isn’t that McDonnell is a heel because he’s throwing his wife under the bus, he’s a heel because throughout his entire political career he’s used her as a prop and now that it’s beneficial for him to do so he’s casting her as the villain. To say nothing of the fact if they were so estranged why would she get him a big, fancy watch, why were they going on all those vacation together, riding in the Ferrari together, etc.?

    My wife has added so much to my life over the years I would gladly take a legal bullet for her, even if I knew myself to have done nothing wrong, and that’s only from her enhancement to my personal life, which is only half the job Maureen did the way she aided her husband’s political ascent.

    McDonnell’s critics probably aren’t interested in his human failings because he never seemed terribly interested in anyone else’s, what with transvaginal ultrasounds and TRAP laws and not wanting to expand Medicaid and all. I imagine that lack of concern probably didn’t engender a lot of charity in his critics.

    Just like critics who frequent this blog aren’t terribly moved by the calls for understanding from someone who frequently eschews such understanding and opts instead for “culture of laziness” when the targets are not the well off and powerful but instead children and the poor.

    Poor, poor Bob McDonnell. He got to lie his way to the governor’s mansion and enjoys the perks of the office and now people are writing unsympathetic things about him. Maybe he can pawn his Rolex for the money to get therapy to help him deal with such tremendous hardship.

    1. Would you “take a legal bullet” for your Dad? That’s more the question.

      1. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

        Depends how big a bullet. But my dad hasn’t done as much for my life and career as Maureen has done for Bob, and more importantly, I didn’t choose my father.

        1. It doesn’t sound like Maureen was doing a lot for Bob in the last however many years unless you consider endless harangues, chasing away qualified employees and carrying on with Jonnie Williams as doing something for your husband.

          Does appalling behavior eventually negate good behavior?

          1. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

            No, because life isn’t a balance sheet where you can treat someone X amount of good as long as you don’t do Y amount of bad.

  8. I wonder how the rhetoric would change if the roles were reversed. If Maureen was governor and Bob was the spouse. Bob was unhappy that he had to move from Virginia Beach to Richmond to support his wife. He let his unhappiness degenerate into long and repeated temper tantrums and verbal abuse. He screamed at the people in state government so much and so loudly they broke down in tears. Some people turned down prestigious jobs just so they wouldn’t have to work with him. So, he begins hanging around with wealthy Jane Williams, a shady CEO. Jane gives him gifts, Jane gives his wife gifts, Jane gives his kids gifts. Over an 18 month period Bob and Jane exchange 1,800 text messages including 52 in a single day. Jane gives Bob and Maureen’s daughter $15,000 for a wedding reception and Bob doesn’t tell Maureen. When Maureen finds out she is furious. Jane gives Maureen’s son a brand new set of very expensive golf clubs. Maureen says to return them but Bob says “no” to Governor Maureen, the boy can keep the clubs.

    Then, the trouble starts. Insinuations. Accusations. An indictment.

    Governor Maureen never did any favors for Jane that she wouldn’t do for any Virginia business executive. Jane wants to meet somebody in state government, Maureen arranged it. Nothing happened. No favorable treatment occurred.

    At trial Maureen wonders how the jury will believe that so much went on between Bob and Jane that Maureen didn’t know about. She decides that she has to tell the truth. Describe the abuse Bob put her through. Call witnesses that testify over and over again that Bob was an abusive lunatic. Show the 1,800 text messages with his crush.

    What would people say?

    Maureen was being shameful for throwing Bob under the bus? Spare me! It would that Bob was an abusive husband. He was an abusive man. He was slippery. He was at least a flirt and probably more. Bob couldn’t handle Maureen’s success and never supported her.

    There would none of these recriminations against Governor Maureen.

    1. Don – you’ve left this planet, dude.

      talk about your sexist hypotheticals!

      come back to earth – gently.

      1. Really? If Maureen had been governor and Bob had been the spouse do you think super-liberal Paul Goldman would have accused Maureen of “pimping Bob out”?

        In the sexist minds of people like you it’s OK for a woman to rant and rage at everybody around her. It’s OK for her to carry on at least an emotional affair with some slippery businessman. It’s OK for her to agree to take $15,000 gifts behind her husband, the governor’s back.

        It’s OK in your sexist mind because she’s a woman I guess. People like you think that women shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions because they are so inferior to men that it would be unfair to hold them accountable.

        However, if the shoe were on the other foot things would be different. Had Maureen been governor and Bob acted like Maureen he’d be a wife abuser. He’d need anger management classes. You’d wonder how the poor woman could have taken the abuse for so long and you’d say that she stayed in the marriage for the sake of her kids. He’d be a philanderer. He’d be a cheat. There would be no sympathy for Bob the spouse of Governor Maureen.

        That’s because you’re sexist and you hold men to a higher standard than women. You simply excuse Maureen’s long running work to make everybody near her miserable. You excuse the abuse of co-workers. You excuse the abuse of her husband. You excuse her philandering. You excuse the 1,800 e-mails with Slick Jonnie. You excuse her hiding the $15,000 wedding gift from her husband. You excuse her for telling her son not to send the golf clubs back as his father (the governor) asked him to do.

        Why do you excuse this torrent of bad behavior? Because you are sexist. You can’t bring yourself to hold a grown, college educated woman accountable for her actions. Why not? Presumably because she’s a woman and, therefore, incapable of taking responsibility for herself.

        1. I don’t excuse her behavior. I just think McDonnell is shirking his own share of responsibility.

          He personally arranged a loan with Williams and if you believe this stupefying narrative – it was he – not Maureen that arrange the golf, and the Ferrari – not his wife – who is was not speaking to …

          this dog won’t hunt.

          1. I don’t excuse Bob McDonnell’s actions either. Unfortunately, under Virginia and Federal law, I doubt his actions are illegal. We’ll see what the jury thinks soon enough. I am just appalled by the people who say Bob McDonnell should have plead guilty to a false charge in order to spare his wife embarrassment. If I found 1,200 text messages on my wife’s phone between her and her boyfriend she’ find herself embarrassed too. And if she found 1,200 text messages on my phone between me and some girlfriend I’d hope that the worst I’d get was public embarrassment.

  9. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    The kipling stuff is a real stretch. I find it offensive

  10. In the Pilot this morning:

    ” McDonnell: “I don’t blame my wife,” I’m accountable”

    geeze Louise.

    this after two days of detailing in ugly detail how Maureen’s myriad “problems” victimized the Gov – via the National Media?

    What kept McDonnell with saying “I’m accountable, leave Maureen out of this” at the front of this?

    another thing – McDonnell knows PRECISELY where the legal lines on with respect to Va’s swiss-cheese weak ethics laws – more than the Federal Prosecutors apparently do… I don’t think the prosecutors have proven their case and it may well get dismissed on motion before it goes to a jury. I’m sure McDonnell told them this on first contact! 😉

    finally, McDonnell will undoubtedly be considered exceptionally valuable to those firms that 1. need folks who know Va law with precision and 2. know how Va govt works – all the nooks and crannies – not only administratively but legislatively. He’s be worth a 6 or even 7 figure salary.

    Maureen? well .. she’ll do well financially with or without Bob but probably not near enough for her tastes.. And beyond her desire for material “goodies”, I don’t think I know who Maureen really is but she’s headed to be a grandmother and she’ll have a large extended family that will be a lot less stressful than the role of wife to a politician.

    Would Bob run again and if did, could he win? Perhaps. If the Dems run a weak opponent as they are often inclined to do – like with Cantor/Brat – we could see a return.

    1. If McDonnell is acquitted I would consider voting for him if, and only if, he made strict ethics reform part of his platform for re-election. After the stock market crash that heralded the Great Recession, Franklin Roosevelt appointed Joseph Kennedy to reform the stock market. Kennedy was a known stock manipulator who skirted the law but never quite broke it in his stock dealings. This seems to have been a good decision. The resulting reforms dramatically improved the level of honesty and transparency in the stock market.

      Again, this only counts if McDonnell is found not guilty on all charges. If he is convicted he can kiss his future goodbye.

      1. re: ” We’ll see what the jury thinks soon enough.”

        I think it’s 50-50 that it even gets to the jury.

        “I am just appalled by the people who say Bob McDonnell should have plead guilty to a false charge in order to spare his wife embarrassment. ”

        He was “dirty” but not in a clear-cut legal way and the prosecutors were hoping to bluff that he did not want his technically legal behaviors to be laundry listed.

        “If I found 1,200 text messages on my wife’s phone between her and her boyfriend she’ find herself embarrassed too. And if she found 1,200 text messages on my phone between me and some girlfriend I’d hope that the worst I’d get was public embarrassment.”

        but you’d never know guy. the only way you’d know is if the authorities got involved and subpoenaed them. You’d not know otherwise – right? Would you go to the telephone company and ask for a data dump of what your wife did on her phone?
        so McDonnell only knew about them AFTER they got charged?

        Perhaps you’ve hit on it and that is how he decided to get even with her by doing a “tell all” on the stand?

        is that what you might be suggesting?

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