The Moral Invariance Theory of Politics

After I moved from Illinois to Virginia, I used to feel so superior about living in a state where governors don’t get caught in bribery scandals or go to jail. When they sent George Ryan and then Rod Blagojevich off to the pokey, I chuckled in a smug and condescending way, shook my head, and said, “Well, there’s Chicago for ya.”

Sigh.

Oh, well. At least the weather is better down here, because it turns out the politicians aren’t.

Virginia’s last governor, Bob McDonnell, went the full Blagojevich and he and his wife were just convicted after a spectacular corruption trial.

When the verdict was announced, our current governor issued a statement. “I am deeply saddened by the events of the trial that ended in today’s verdict, and the impact it has had on our Commonwealth’s reputation for honesty and clean government,” said Governor Terry McAuliffe.

Yes, folks, that’s right. In their disgust at the corruption of McDonnell, who was a Republican, the people of Virginia turned to the Democrat in last year’s election, who turned out to be longtime Clinton political fixer Terry McAuliffe.

It was, perhaps, not the wisest decision.

McDonnell was the first governor in the long history of the Old Dominion to even be charged with a crime. It’s looking like he won’t be the last.

There was no reason to expect anything good of McAuliffe. As I laid out in detail at the time, McAuliffe had tried to re-brand himself from Beltway insider to visionary entrepreneur by means of a corrupt “crony capitalist” setup in which he became the figurehead and political fixer for an aspiring electric car maker called GreenTech. The whole thing was a giant lie, from the fact that he didn’t really start up his start-up (he started a Virginia branch that was then merged with an existing company), to the fact that a promised factory in Virginia was never built (one has finally been built in Mississippi), to the fact that the whole thing seems mostly to have been a conduit to sell green cards to wealthy Chinese immigrants under a special visa program for “investors” who don’t care too much about whether they get their money back.

And now comes the inevitable punch line: Terry McAuliffe’s chief of staff has been caught offering a major job in the governor’s administration to the daughter of a state senator if he would stay in office to support McAuliffe’s push for state-level implementation of ObamaCare. The bribe offer was left in a voicemail:

Hey Senator. This is Paul Reagan again. I just wanted to bounce one idea off you. I know there was a lot of frustration with your daughter, not, you know, getting a judgeship or something. If there’s something that we can do for her, I mean, you know, we have a couple of big agencies here that we still need agency heads. We could potentially, potentially, subject to approval of the governor and so forth, you know, the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy could be available. So we would be very eager to accommodate her, if, if that would be helpful in keeping you in the Senate. We, we would basically do anything. We just need you really, we need you for the rest of your term and beyond, but in the immediate future, we need you to help us get this Medicaid deal through and I think we’ve got a way to do it. So anyway, please let’s keep all this confidential.

Pro tip: if you want to keep a bribe offer confidential, you might want to consider not leaving it in a voice message.

In response, the governor’s office issued a hilarious non-denial denial:

Mr. Reagan acted on his own to inform the senator that there were other available opportunities for which his daughter might apply. No further conversations about this topic ever occurred. No position was ever formally offered.

Note that not a word of this is technically a lie—surely not by Clintonian standards—even if the whole quid pro quo was discussed openly between the governor and his chief of staff. It’s still true that Paul Regan acted on his own when he informed the senator of the offer.

The irony is that the senator was resigning from his office because of anti-nepotism laws which prevented his daughter from being permanently appointed as a judge while he remained in office. So instead, McAuliffe’s chief of staff openly offered her a job in exchange for the senator’s vote on a key issue. Which is the very definition of political bribery. One presumes prosecutors will be looking into this shortly.

This is a reminder that politicians are all the same, always and everywhere. Maybe instead of being ashamed of sending one governor, and possibly another, to jail, we should worry that we haven’t been sending enough of them. What have the previous ones been getting away with?

So come on, Virginia, we can do better. After McAuliffe, we’ll still have to send two more governors to jail to catch up with Illinois.

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