Editorial: We are better than this
Virginia used to be better than this.
Watching the seamy details unfold in the corruption trial of former Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, one can’t help but think that politics in Virginia was somehow above this petty, unscrupulous behavior.
This isn’t Illinois, which had its former governor apparently selling a seat in the U.S. Senate to the highest bidder. Or New Jersey, whose current governor is still embroiled in a scandal where he stands accused of orchestrating traffic jams as possible political payback. Or the cities of Providence, R.I., and Washington, D.C., whose voters reelected mayors even after they had been convicted of crimes while in office.
After all, Virginia is the cradle of American democracy, home to eight U.S. presidents. When Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson were your first two governors, you tend to set the bar pretty high.
Thing is, we are better than this. And it took a political leader’s death to remind us of this.
Last week, as the disgraceful trial was just beginning and as defense attorneys were laying out the strategy of blaming the governor’s flirtatious wife for the trouble they both now find themselves in, M. Caldwell Butler of Roanoke was breathing his last breath.
Butler harkens back to a different era of politician, one who put ethics above party and honor above personal gain. As a first-term Congressman who was swept into office by Richard Nixon’s 1972 landslide victory, Butler could have easily stuck with the party line once the Watergate conspiracy began to unravel. But he didn’t.
A member of the House Judiciary Committee, Butler dramatically announced that he would vote for impeachment, leading others to adopt his view. “For years we Republicans have campaigned against corruption and misconduct,” he said. “But Watergate is our shame.”
His harshest critic turned out to be his own mother, who castigated him for abandoning his party at this critical time.
“Dear Mother,” he wrote, “You are probably right. However, I feel that my loyalty to the Republican Party does not relieve me of the obligation which I have.”
Whatever the outcome, Virginia’s political integrity has been sullied by this trial. But Virginians, buoyed by Butler’s example, need to remember one thing: We are better than this.