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Holiday Weekend Scandals

Surprise! Tom DeLay was just convicted, joining a long list of famous faces that made news during a quiet dumping ground. Rebecca Dana remembers the divorces, pardons, and resignations.

11.24.10 11:54 PM ET

Ahh, a holiday weekend. You’ve packed up the kiddies, endured your mandatory TSA junk-juggling, turned off the iPad, iPod, and all the other chirruping gadgetry, and settled in for four solid days of peace and quiet when whap!—like an (alleged) nine-iron to the jaw—it hits: the surprise holiday weekend scandal.

Except the event’s never really a surprise—only the details are. Maybe it’s an ill-advised presidential pardon. Maybe it’s a long-anticipated celebrity divorce filing. Maybe it’s Charlie Sheen, on the lawn, with a knife! Or maybe it’s a man with a bomb in his underpants (although it probably won’t be that ever again).

Already on Wednesday evening, one delectable scandal popped: Former House Majority Leader and Dancing With the Stars contestant Tom “The Hammer” DeLay was convicted of laundering $190,000 in campaign contributions, a crime that could send him to prison for the rest of his life. The jury deliberated for 29 hours, just to the brink of the holiday, and then threw down a guilty verdict in time to make the last flights out of town.

Will DeLay rule the weekend, or is an even bigger thumping in store, on par with the one Elin Woods reportedly dealt her husband last year?

Whatever it is, you can count on one scandal to own the television set this weekend, as reliable as a Palin in prime-time. And chances are decent it will star a Palin this year, with the family already ubiquitous, Bristol flubbing it on Dancing With the Stars, and the other Palin hens spewing hate speech on Facebook. We already lost the July 4 weekend in 2009 to the family, when Sarah renounced her Alaskan governorship at a slap-dash press conference outside their Wasilla home.

The holiday-weekend scandal is as treasured and timeless a national pastime as the holiday weekend itself. But until the current era, with the advent of cable news and Tweetdeck and vast expanses of airtime and Internet space to fill, we rarely got to the scandal part. It used to be, you could commute a convicted perjurer’s sentence on the July 4th weekend, and there was a decent chance no one would notice. Not so now. (Sorry, Scooter Libby!)

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When it comes to stealth holiday maneuvers, the second President Bush, who commuted Libby’s sentence, had nothing on his father, who chose Christmas Day 1992 to announce his pardons of former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and five other Reagan administration officials involved in the Iran-Contra affair. And for sheer hardness of heart, neither man can compare to right-wing radio host and onetime painkiller-addict Rush Limbaugh, who ditched his third wife four days before Christmas in 2004. Like Limbaugh, Hollywood loves a holiday breakup. Brad and Jen did it over New Year’s Eve 2005. Valerie Bertinelli and Eddie van Halen and Sean and Robin Wright Penn broke up on Christmas 2007, although the Penns reunited, only to split again. The Gores announced their separation over Memorial Day of this year. Nick and Jessica blew up right before Thanksgiving 2005. Is Election Day a holiday? Because that’s as far as Britney Spears and Kevin Federline got before calling it quits in 2006, after two long years together.

When the holiday weekend scandal strikes, there’s a temptation to look away, turn off the TV, have some more buttered rum. But it won’t work. Don’t bother. You can pretend not to notice the zombie-eyed blonde crashing the White House State Dinner, but not for long. That’s the thing about the holiday weekend scandal: It’ll always be there, waiting for you, on Monday.

Rebecca Dana is a senior correspondent for The Daily Beast. A former editor and reporter for the Wall Street Journal, she has also written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Rolling Stone and Slate, among other publications.