I have been following the story of former Governor McDonnell’s and his wife Maureen’s unexpected and infamous plunge into the spotlight for their corrupt actions during Mr. McDonnell’s governorship. I remember being shocked learning about how Maureen traded fancy designer clothes acquired through an all expense paid trip to New York City for a Governor’s mansion luncheon to help promote Jonnie Williams’ Anatabloc supplement to state health officials and other important individuals. Jonnie Williams was the CEO of Star Scientific, a maker of supplements and able to use his wealth to buy connections to prominent government officials through the McDonnell’s.
After reading through Chapter 9 on class and inequality in our textbook and reading this article in the Richmond Times Dispatch on the McDonnell’s, I have a better understanding of why they may have acted as they did through his rise to power. Though their actions might be understood, they are not at all justified. Class is defined as “a group of people who share a similar economic position and lifestyle (Croteau and Hoynes 221).” Mr. McDonnell had a modest middle class background, served time in the army, was a Republican delegate in the Virginia General Assembly, then attorney general, and finally governor. He had a good salary but was not in the comparable economic position of other former Virginia governors. Jim Nolan states, “The McDonnells arguably arrived at the stately Executive Mansion without the wealth of a number of its previous occupants.” Their lack of wealth caused them to be uneasy and uncomfortable and resort to measures to try to overcome their class status. This falls in line with Thorestein Veblen’s term conspicuous consumption “lavish spending, done to compete for status (Croteau and Hoynes 232).” Since the McDonnell’s did not have the money for the lifestyles of other politicians, they borrowed or took money from Mr. Williams in exchange for political favors. Mrs. McDonnell bought her husband a Rolex watch for Christmas with Mr. Williams’ money. Mr. McDonnell and his sons went golfing on Mr. Williams’ tab. Their lavish spending fits with their attempts to jump to a higher class and their nouveau riche status. On the other hand, wealthy individuals with inherited money tend to not show their money ostentatiously. The McDonnell’s wanted to be accepted by the wealthy upper class but instead displayed greed and entitlement. Nolan writes, “‘Entitled’ was the word used by one state worker who had dealt with the family on a daily basis.” Moreover I think the McDonnell’s story demonstrates their unease with their class status and how disillusioned they became trying to move up classes. We all come in to the world with different life chances (social class, race, gender, sexual orientation) and movement between classes is not as fluid as we would like. The entitlement demonstrated by the McDonnell’s echo’s the entitlement of the billionaires from the Park Avenue documentary. These top 1 percenters operated under different sets of rules from the rest of the population through acts such as violating environmental laws and paying lower taxes. The article about former Governor McDonnell finishes examining his tarnished image and realizing that if not for his greed he could have been very comfortable financially with teaching gigs and speaking opportunities following his term as governor. The lifestyle they wanted and they could not afford destroyed their image.
Submitted by Alicia Grove