"We are broke," confessed former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell's wife Maureen in an email to his staff, and "have an unconscionable amount in credit card debt."
Let's assume for the sake of argument that this is true. Does it exonerate the McDonnells from the very-serous allegations of accepting gifts in return for using the governor's office to dish out special treatment? Of course not. And yet... it might serve as at least a partial explanation as to why someone who seemed to be a rising star in politics would risk throwing it all away.
"The American political system makes it easier for the wealthy to prevail," writes National Journal's Matt Berman. "But the McDonnell case shows that the flip side is also true: In U.S. politics, not having enough money can carve out a path to ruin."
It's at least plausible to imagine that if the McDonnells had plenty of personal or family wealth, Virginia's first couple would have behaved much better.
This is, of course, debatable. One could also argue that this character deficiency would have manifested itself elsewhere.
But for a moment, let's explore the pitfalls associated with trying to jump into a higher income bracket and social class. There are dangers in aggressively trying to elevate one's status, even in America. Imagine being McDonnell, the son of an Air Force officer, suddenly surrounded by all the trappings of wealth and power. Is it so hard to imagine how he might be tempted? That doesn't mean it would be right — only that as people, we should be able to understand.
Living beyond your means and trying to be something you're not is fraught with danger. In this regard, the McDonnells are extreme examples of modern American culture.
Sometimes people who come from humble beginnings become bitter and resentful, even as they rise in station. And folks who don't have a lot of money, but are trying to accomplish something, often don't have the luxury of holding out for the perfect situation. They have to accept some messiness.
In the writing world, this might be as simple as whether to do a project that feels hackish or trite, but pays well. When money's not an issue, you are a little bit freer to avoid anything that might offend your artistic sensibilities. But if you have a mortgage, credit card debt, and a bunch of kids, you may have to lower your standards.
This seems like a small thing, but sometimes small things turn into more small things. And then big things.
Preachers talk a lot about sexual sins, but I suspect just as many lives (and political careers) have been destroyed by the temptations associated with envy. Greed and covetousness are pernicious.
The irony, of course, is that, as Byron York points out: "A former governor can make a lot of money. He can cash in on the influence he still has after leaving the statehouse. But if the indictment is correct, the McDonnells, in debt and wanting to drive Ferraris and wear Rolexes and play golf at swanky courses, couldn't wait, even four years, for the payoff."
In the end, it may be their need for instant gratification — not just greed — that did them in.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like
- The Daily Show has some fun mocking the CPAC power players
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Here's proof that Justin Bieber is just as spoiled as you always thought
- Watch Zach Galifianakis get annoyed at President Obama on Between Two Ferns
- 10 things you need to know today: March 11, 2014
- Why I'm sick and tired of seeing naked women on HBO
- Why Ted Cruz is the real-life Frank Underwood
- Why is it so expensive to build a bridge in America?
- What the collapse of the Ming Dynasty can tell us about American decline
Subscribe to the Week