Oh, where to begin…
New York politics, at some level, affects the entire nation. Both the city and the state are constantly under a magnifying glass and perhaps justifiably so. Even at 2,808 miles away from my home in the sleepy Sacramento suburb of Fair Oaks, the shock waves of the recent tumult can be felt. Once again a corrupt politician has given all politicians a black eye. New York Governor Eliot Spitzer has the dubious distinction of being the latest public servant to be caught with his pants down – quite literally.
The tightrope between power and service is a line all elected officials must negotiate. Although I sincerely believe the vast majority of elected and appointed officials enter public service for altruistic reasons, there are a great many equally civic-minded individuals who wouldn’t touch politics with a 10-foot pole. For those who voluntarily subject themselves to the rigor and scrutiny of public office, there must be something more. To some extent power and ego must come into play.
This is not a bad thing and certainly not all politicos are power-hungry egomaniacs. However, the lure of power and prestige cannot be discounted; it is a necessary component. If Lord Acton is correct that, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” then Spitzer’s recent trouble shouldn’t surprise us. We are rightfully outraged, indignant, even pissed-off, but we shouldn’t be surprised. Yet we still are. We still expect our public officials to behave as we are expected to. Although the headlines never read “Politicians do not break the law today,” this is in fact the norm.
With Spitzer it goes beyond simply having sex with high-priced hookers. I think many of us could forgive him for that. Some would say it's nobody else's business. And although still considered immoral in even the most liberal circles, infidelity is not illegal. We could even argue whether prostitution should be illegal. These are not factors in Spitzer’s little faux pas. His violation is of a much more primeval nature. He is guilty of hypocrisy.
We are a nation of laws. You hear our leaders say it all the time when comparing our society to autocratic and oppressive governments. They will often trumpet this ideal in conjunction with the idea that no one is above the law. When individuals who are placed in positions of power and trust abuse that trust and violate the law they have been charged with upholding, we get angry.
Spitzer is an attorney, a former district attorney and prior to governor, he was the New York state attorney general. In 2004 he was credited with busting up a prostitution ring in Staten Island. Not nearly as high class as the hookers Spitzer patronized (reported to be upwards of $1000 per hour), a mere $250 would purchase the services of a girl from the Staten Island ring. It is reported that Spitzer has been patronizing his particular service for up to six years and perhaps for as long as 10. I guess that busting up a prostitution ring is hard work… what better way to unwind than in the company of someone who is paid to say “yes.”
Now that Spitzer has been caught, he is sorry. Of course he is… very sorry he got caught. There can be no question that he knew what he was doing was wrong on so many levels. The one that is most compelling, and the one that makes this our business is its illegality. Spitzer has a reputation for being an as…, um – heavy-handed. He made some enemies along the way. It is interesting to note that he doesn’t have anyone rushing to his defense now. He was getting no love from the state assembly, which demanded his resignation within 48 hours. He famously tried to discredit his chief Republican rival Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno. Guess who would lead impeachment hearings if Spitzer did not resign? Even the U.S. Attorney’s office issued a statement saying there were no deals made with Spitzer.
Like a rat caught in a trap, Spitzer is squirming. Although his wife has been silently standing by his side, one can only wonder when that will come to an end. I’ll go out on a limb here… she was not the last to know. I’m thinking she has known of her husband’s extracurricular activities for some time. I feel most sorry for his three daughters. Not only has their father fallen in disgrace, their father is indeed disgraceful. And maybe he has learned his lesson. If there is any justice, he will have a very long time to think about it.