In Virginia, 2014 was the year to throw Mom under the bus. Then back over her for good measure.
And not just because we started out the year with an oafish attempt at sarcasm from Sen. Stephen Martin, R-Chesterfield, when he called mothers “hosts” in a Facebook post chiding Planned Parenthood.
Or because the number of child deaths in unlicensed daycare centers in the state grew, while the spaces available for children in licensed daycares shrank, further limiting support for Virginia’s working moms and families.
No, the crowning crime against Virginia motherhood was the public evisceration of the state’s former first lady, Maureen McDonnell — by attorneys, by her husband and, in the end, by her daughter.
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The same grown children who helped trigger the federal investigation that led to their parents’ trial and convictions; the adult kids who allegedly raided the state’s executive mansion for glasses, pots and pans, and stacks and stacks of food, crates of eggs and cases of alcohol; who had a wedding catering bill paid for; who flitted across the country on a private jet; who played $2,000 golf rounds and took a $10,000 party gift — now at least one of them blames Mom.
Convicted along with her husband, former Gov. Robert McDonnell, on public corruption charges, the mother of five was publicly battered one last time at the close of 2014 with letters to a judge asking for leniency at Robert McDonnell’s Jan. 6 sentencing.
All five of the children painted their father as a saint with a heart of gold who never longed for material goods. Their oldest daughter, Jeanine McDonnell Zubowsky, went further and said it was her mother’s obsessions that were to blame for Saint Daddy’s political downfall.
“The only things that have ever mattered to him are God, his family and his job. He has never cared about money or things and would absolutely never use his job or position to gain any material items,” Zubowsky wrote. “My mom, in contrast, has always been concerned about getting discounts or freebies.”
So let’s review here: When they had three children, Maureen McDonnell worked as a waitress and a typist to support Dad’s time in law school, this daughter testified in court. Mom ran home-based teddy bear and vitamin sales schemes, because that’s all that a mother of five who was alone from dawn to dusk with her children could manage.
Maureen McDonnell never wanted a husband aimed at the White House. She told him public life was too much for her, that she was uncomfortable with her husband taking on even more as their family grew bigger. His public servant salary stayed small, and he was always gone.
“At the time, she expressed some reservations. She would ask, What is this going to be like? What will a campaign be like?” Robert McDonnell testified in August during his trial. “The public life was one that caused more stress.”
His response? He ran for state delegate. Then he ran for attorney general.
Her response? She campaigned door-to-door for him, first when she was pregnant with twins, then in between shuttling the five kids to soccer, swimming, music and school.
When he won the AG job, McDonnell moved to Richmond and left his wife and five children alone in Virginia Beach while the kids finished school. And the kids wondered aloud in court why Mom took long baths and drank wine as an escape.
“Sadly, my opinion is that my mom has had mental-health issues for many years,” Zubowsky wrote.
Gee, ya think? Let’s break it down Betty Friedan-style for you.
Dad kept charging ahead with little concern about Mom’s mental health. Her family thinks she was a few fries short of a Happy Meal, yet expresses no outrage that she was left alone to raise the McDonnells’ ever-expanding brood of children.
“I think that he was waiting until he was out of office to shift the focus back to encouraging her to get the help she has needed since he didn’t have the bandwidth before to do so,” Zubowsky wrote.
So, for a couple of decades now, the McDonnells apparently knew Mom was losing it. But everyone was cool with riding out this wild public-office thing as far as it went (White House 2016?!). Then they’d spackle Mom’s psyche.
The court testimony in their trial included photos of McDonnell smiling wide while flashing the Rolex he took from Jonnie Williams, the vitamin salesman who gave the McDonnells $177,000 in cash, gifts and loans, hoping to get more exposure for his products.
The kids, who wrote five of the more than 400 letters filed in court asking for leniency for the former governor, said their dad wore shirts with holes in them and shoes with the soles worn out. He didn’t pine for material things.
So, Maureen McDonnell wrestled the Rolex on him? Muscled him into Willams’ private jet? Held him at wife-point until he drove the Ferrari and smiled for the camera? Frog-marched him into the fancy country clubs?
Zubowsky testified this summer that her mom often bought things and hid the purchases from Dad. (Which no spouse has done. Ever.)
But when Williams gave Zubowsky’s fiancé a $10,000 check at a party for the groom? She told jurors she was “overwhelmed” by the gift, but hid it from her father because it made her “uncomfortable.”
Huh. Apple, meet the tree from which you fell.
The cash, luxe perks and trinkets that the McDonnells took — in the grand scheme of all the political wheeling and dealing that goes on every day — was pretty insignificant. But the classless attempt at blaming an overburdened and troubled woman is huge.
I don’t think Maureen McDonnell was particularly beloved in Virginia. But at this point, she is becoming increasingly pitied.
Maybe 2015 will be the year that everyone says sorry to Mom.
Petula Dvorak is a columnist for The Washington Post’s Metro section.
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