If the allegations surrounding former Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-Va.) and his wife are true, then they seem to be two petty, tacky people who deserve each other, but the hostility being directed toward Mrs. McDonnell, as exemplified by Morning Joe‘s Joe Scarborough, is telling of the deep misogyny dwelling beneath our media’s skin. Those allegations essentially involve the McDonnells shaking down businessman Jonnie Williams for six figures worth of gifts and loans, in exchange for help launching one of Williams’ products, a tobacco-based supplement pill.
The credulity with which the press is swallowing this story is due, in large part, to a predisposition toward all of the sexist and misogynistic tropes that go along with it; the scheming bitch wife, the devoted, blinkered husband, and the idea that a grown-ass woman can have her motivations infantilized into a “crush.”
So it was not surprising that Scarborough would come along and swallow the whole thing, too, but in critiquing Dana Milbank’s excellent paint-stripping of McDonnell, he brought the misogynistic hostility into helpfully stark relief. Aside from his willingness to buy into the stereotypes, listen to his visceral reaction to the allegation that Maureen McDonnell pitched Jonnie Williams’ supplements to Ann Romney as a cure for Multiple Sclerosis:
“I hope the Romneys had, I hope the Secret Service detail was around, and they put a Taser to the back of her when she did that.”
To be clear, this is not a play for sympathy for Maureen McDonnell, because it is her lawyers who are selling this sexist garbage, relying on and exploiting exactly the kind of hostility that is so easily wrenched from Joe Scarborough’s maw. According to the indictment, Gov. McDonnell pitched the supplement as a way to cut costs for his state’s health plan, endorsing it by virtue of his own personal use. If Mrs. McDonnell deserves a Taser to the back, then surely the governor was nuts enough to deserve a wanding of some sort.
Rachel Maddow has been covering the Bob McDonnell scandal longer and harder than a Ron Jeremy retrospective, and on Wednesday night, she did an in-depth explainer on the big shift that has occurred in the McDonnell narrative since the trial began, which is that their defense is now that the couple were not using Jonnie Williams as a sugar daddy, but that only Mrs. McDonnell was using him as a sugar daddy, and was hoping for more than just sugar.
I encourage you to watch the segment, because aside from its catch-up value, Maddow does a great job of explaining how the press is being duped into abetting this transparently self-serving defense. It is self-evident crap. It was the governor who got the Rolex and the Ferrari and the catering of his daughter’s wedding, and it was the governor who arranged Williams’ favors. If she’s being painted as the whore in this setup, then McDonnell was, at best, the pimp.
As Maddow explained, it is tempting to just pop some corn and watch these two fling shovels of dirt into each other’s holes, or to chortle at the McDonnell defense’s idea of a smoking gun email that’s the worst excuse for flirtation since “It rubs the lotion on its skin”:
“I just felt the earth move and I wasn’t having sex!!!!”
That email, sent after the 2011 East Coast earthquake, is supposed to be evidence of the alleged “crush,” but it was really just a missed opportunity to be the fourth or fifth least original one-liner on Twitter that day.
It’s also tempting to just enjoy the comeuppance being delivered to Bob McDonnell, whose attempt at legislative intrusion into Virginia women is coming home to roost. It is hard to resist the sight of McDonnell, who delivered an Alternate White Universe State of the Union Address following President Obama’s first SOTU (in the same place where Confederate President Jefferson Davis was inaugurated), reduced to tatters.
But we can do both. We can watch the McDonnells appear to chew through each other to get out of this trouble, and still call out the sexist narrative they’re spinning in order to do it.