Eliot Spitzer, hypocrisy, and hubris
We live in an age in which are public figures are regularly sacrificed on the altar of righteous hypocrisy. Many of them deserve their fate. Goodness knows we all seem to love to see the arrogant, the powerful, or the rich fall. If someone happens to be arrogant, powerful, and
rich, there is always a real pile-on when they fall. Witness the fate of Barry Bonds. No one lost their life-savings because of Barry Bonds. That is more than I can say for the likes of Conrad Black. Yet Bonds is absolutely reviled by millions of people.
I have little pity for Barry Bonds, but I do find the self-righteousness of his attackers distasteful. I am sure that we would all have behaved better than he did under the same circumstances because we are all good people, right? Bonds will have lots of money to make his retirement comfortable; the rest of us will just have to take solace in our righteous indignation.
Eliot Spitzer made his name as the "Sheriff of Wall Street". He prosecuted the greedheads that the Feds wouldn't go after. He was elected Governor of New York on a platform of cleaning-up Albany the way he cleaned-up Wall Street. And he got to Albany and his "steamroller" was stopped by a small, ugly stone named Joe Bruno. Bruno had a vested interest in keeping things in Albany the way have been for decades, as he was one of the three people in Albany with any real power.
Bruno is a political hack of the old order, and he is no idiot. His refusal to knuckle-under to Spitzer provoked the governor into using the State Police to dig-up dirt on Bruno. Thanks to reformers of decades past, using the State Police to settle political scores is illegal, and Spitzer, instead of Bruno, was caught in a scandal. The fact that Bruno seemed to get consulting work from companies doing business with the State of New York escaped much notice in the furor over Spitzer's politicization of the State Police. Score one for the wily old senator from Rensselaer County.
There was little pleasure to be taken from Bruno's humiliation of Spitzer. It was one bully beating another bully. As bullies go, Spitzer at least seemed to be on the side of the angels, but it's not as if he didn't deserve to be humiliated.
And now we have the spectacle of Spitzer being caught in a Federal investigation of an escort service or prostitution ring or whatever one calls such operations. His condemnation of prostitution operations his office prosecuted while he was the New York Attorney General is seeming quite hypocritical right now. If he is, in fact, guilty of using a prostitute, it proves his arrogance and hubris, but not much else about him. It is the disease of believing that one will not get caught. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Conrad Black, Ken Lay: They all had the same disease. Karl Rove still has it.
The mighty fall; it is an age-old story. We still get outraged after millennia of examples of our heroes letting us down. And that is what this is really about, isn't it? These people disappointed us. They did not live-up to the hopes we invested them with. People may be fascinated by the troubles of the likes of Britney Spears, but they aren't outraged by her fall from grace. Spitzer, on the other hand, was a hero to many people and they must now have their retribution. He is not the golden boy who will become the first Jewish president of the United States.
I admired many of the things Spitzer did while he was Attorney General, although I could see that much of what he did was done more for personal aggrandizement than for the public good. If someone's arrogance can be harnessed to do good, then why not accept their help, I figured. Spitzer's arrogance was always off-putting, however. I wouldn't want to hang around with him, but at least much of his bullying was directed at the bad guys.
But now Spitzer is brought-down by the fact that he used a prostitute and got caught doing so. Public officials must uphold the law, even if that law is rarely enforced. They must be above reproach, or their enemies will find out about their misdeeds and use them against them. Spitzer should know that. Nevertheless, the fact that he is being brought-down by this particular crime begs the question of why it is a crime for someone to pay someone else for sex, but it is not a crime for a third party to pay two people to have sex and then film it and make money off that film. Pornography is legal, and it constitutes paying people to have sex, but prostitution is illegal?
Spitzer's wife and family certainly have a bone to pick with him over his relationship with the prostitute(s), and the citizens of New York have a bone to pick with him for being so arrogant that he thought he could get away with doing something he prosecuted others for. Good riddance to him, I say. Having said that, however, I have to wonder why this particular investigation was going on in the first place. Do the Feds really make a habit of targeting call girls and their pimps? Or was this a case of someone in the (highly partisan) Department of Justice getting the word that the pesky and ambitious Democratic governor of New York was using prostitutes and using that information to get rid of him.
So, I am not sure that the citizens of New York or the United States are served by this charade of righteous indignation over Spitzer's sexual habits. Prostitution is illegal and he should have known better, but this really is a petty reason to force anyone from office. Maybe it is time to review our laws on prostitution; I am not, however, holding my breath waiting for that to happen.
On the bright side, David Paterson seems to be an honorable man, and as a seasoned Albany politician, he will be able to work with Joe Bruno and Sheldon Silver, so the citizens of New York might actually get a more effective government out of this. Unfortunately, another supremely arrogant Attorney General would like to be governor. Andrew Cuomo is difficult to stomach in his current job; higher office will only make him more insufferable. Maybe the DOJ can dig something up on him. If the Republicans are going to abuse their power to get rid of Democrats, we can at least point them at ones no one really likes.
I shouldn't be advocating the use of bullies to take-down other bullies though. Today's news should teach me that, if nothing else. Good luck Governor Paterson.