Sad news from Virginia where former governor Bob McDonnell and his wife have been indicted for allegedly accepting improper gifts from a hawker of dietary supplements. McDonnell and missus supposedly accepted favors such as cash loans, the use of a private jet and a Ferrari, and golf vacations from the CEO of Star Scientific. McDonnell was considered a rising star in GOP politics and a 2016 presidential contender until the Star Scientific story broke last spring. Of course, he is entitled to his day in court, but his defense thus far seems to amount to: “I wasn’t aware that this wealthy businessman didn’t do all of these nice things for me out of the goodness of his heart.”
In case you were wondering exactly what Star Scientific produces, the company’s website offers the following:
Since the incorporation of our Rock Creek Pharmaceuticals subsidiary in 2007, our research has focused primarily on the utility of anatabine, one of the alkaloids found in the Solanaceae family of plants, which includes tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, potatoes, and tobacco. Initially, our research concentrated on the impact of anatabine in decreasing an individual’s desire to smoke cigarettes or use other traditional tobacco products. More recently, Rock Creek Pharmaceuticals has been focusing on the anti-inflammatory aspects of anatabine, in an effort to develop a range of non-nicotine dietary supplements and related pharmaceutical products that could be beneficial in maintaining a healthy metabolism and in supporting good nutrition.
Emphasis mine, but the pseudoscientific jargon clears things up nicely. They’re in the snake oil business. So even in the event that he is exonerated, it looks like McDonnell threw away his shot at the big chair for a chummy relationship with a man who could be a half step up from Vince from the ShamWow commercials. But the most unseemly part is the whole Ferrari thing. Everyone knows that a Ferrari is a fantasy for a little boy—or the guy in Wolf of Wall Street, which is really the same thing, come to think of it—whereas refined tastes can only be quenched with a Maserati GranTurismo. If you’re going to violate the sacred public trust, do it with style.
I thought of McDonnell today in my class on Aristotle. The Greek philosopher wrote in his Ethics that the political arts are worthy of greater honor than the medical arts. Physicians might save your life (perhaps even without the benefit of the alkaloids found in the Solanaceae family of plants), but politicians are ideally supposed to save your soul. It is their job to understand how to guide the members of society towards virtue and to structure the laws accordingly.
Our politicians routinely engage in dishonesty at the margins, whether it’s overly close friendships with diet pill magnates or, as in case of Texas’s own “Abortion Barbie,” Wendy Davis, lying about key aspects of your bio. (See Natalie deMacedo’s takedown of Davis on this very blog.) Davis wasn’t the first politician to play her biography fast and loose in order to gain a political edge. Recall the case of Elizabeth Warren, proud “Native American” senator from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Aristotle expected politicians to serve as an ethical guide. We can’t even expect ours to choose their friends carefully, or be honest about who they are.