Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Spitting Into the Wind

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.


kenju said...

We saw him resign on the news a while ago and I thought waht you said, he is only sorry that he got caught. I feel so sorry for his wife. She may have known about it and even agreed with his doing it - but I bet she never counted on him being caught this way. The people I feel sorry for are his children. No child should have to live through that!

mckay said...

politics is an interesting area to ponder. who does it attract like a moth to a flame? servants, egotists, power addicts... i like to see the best in people, but there's always this little nagging think that makes me wonder what's their subconscious motive.

what was the name of that older movie? "the corruption of ..." maybe an alan alda movie about how a politician started out starry eyed and altruistic and got caught in the web that is politics.

the standard themes of power corrupts will surely repeat.

great post, sam.

Anonymous said...

Re that limb you've gone out on...On what possible information might you think that Spitzer's wife has not been "the last one to know" about her husband's vices?
He had an extensive travel schedule and he also had the financial means to support his desires.

The crime of this situation, in my eyes, is that Spitzer paid extra for unprotected sex and thereby risked his wife's health and that he so flagrantly ignored money laundering checkpoints that he had used previously to hunt down corruption.

His decision to pay for this in such a traceable manner would be akin to a major rock star going down to the park to score drugs. Most men of this much power and influence have staff to protect them from public scrutiny.

Michael K. Althouse said...


No information... it is a hunch, a guess, a presumption. I find it hard to believe she didn't know, but I obviously have no way of knowing what she knew - obviously. This is not a news story - it is my opinion and as such gives me the latitude to speculate. You don't have to agree and personally, I don't care if you do. I'm not selling anything. I am simply expressing my First Amendment right to do so.

As have you.

Now a question for you: How do you know he paid extra for unprotected sex? I don't recall reading anything about that. Oh, never mind... It had to be the New York Times - credible sources are optional there.

Another assumption - he paid extra for VERY high-end hookers where what he got for the price was exclusivity - whatever that brings with it. And the REAL crimes are the real crimes he committed - not whether or not he cheated on his wife.

Who in all likelyhood knew all about it anyway... my opinion once again.

Ellen said...

What galls me is that the hooker in this scandel is made out to be a victim by her MySpace pals, and friends that appeared on the Today show. Balderdash! The only victims here are the wife and kids of Spitzer.

As for the movie that you were searching for McKay: "The Seduction of Joe Tynan". Meryl Streep played the mistress, and Alan Alda the politico.

rashbre said...

I commented on this over at Carmi's and spotted your post too. I'm sure my unreliable UK sources get this wrong but...

Allegedly, these big cheeses join the Emperors Club of New Jersey, select from pseudonyms of 'consultants' like Kirsten (aka Ashley Dupre) and then get billed for the diamond rated circa $5k per hour services via QAT Consulting.

I wanna see who else falls out as this becomes exposed...

Best rashbre

Don said...

My only real problem with your post was the repetion of the idea that we in the US are "a nation of laws". I used to believe it but since Mr. Bush (Jr) has become president it has become obviously untrue. "Due process" is gone for many; perhaps forever. Maybe it always was untrue and I have only just begun to see it. After all, Ted Kennedy is still in the Senate rather than the jailhouse.

scrappintwinmom said...

I'm a New Yorker and I wrote about Spitzer too. You're spot on.