McDonnells' "soap opera" is not the problem

The federal corruption trial of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife began this week. We knew it would be a circus, but the competing narratives of the two sides are tailor-made for media headlines.

Star witness for the prosecution, supplement manufacturer Jonnie Williams, basically told the court that he was manipulating the McDonnells for business reasons. He painted the former Governor and his wife as a couple of rubes, dazzled by rides in his fancy cars and private plane, and willing to trade political favors for more. (It should be noted that WIlliams has been granted immunity from prosecution.)

Meanwhile, the McDonnells seem to be ginning up a romance between the first lady and Williams, suggesting that Maureen McDonnell accepted favors from Williams just because she was so enamored of him. WaPo columnist Petula Dvorak even suggested she was acting out a "puppy crush" in court.

This is all great fun, especially for those who remember how the Governor stood with religious conservatives on abortion and gay rights. (MSNBC's Martin Bashir, mostly unfairly, went after the governor last year for his master's thesis. I wrote one of those myself, and I wouldn't have any idea today what I said in it.)

But overall, I'm with Rachel Maddow on this trial: the media are having fun with the soap opera, but we're forgetting the real issue here. The story of the McDonnell trial is not a soap opera, or even the fall of a once-righteous leader; it's the age-old story of political corruption. As we were reminded with the Phil Puckett resignation mess, we can't rely on politicians to police themselves. The prevention of political corruption requires REAL ethics reform, including gift bans with teeth and revolving door restrictions.

And with a General Assembly passing almost useless reforms, and then the Governor quietly vetoing funds for even their bad ideas, change does not seem to be on the horizon. It may take the next McDonnell-type scandal -- and, without reform, there WILL be more -- to spur the GA to action.