Spitzerations

by Michael O. Allen on March 13, 2008

Other than the one sentence I’d mustered, so far, I have not been able to muster any enthusiasm to kick Gov. Eliot Spitzer while he is down. It would be so sweet to dance on his political grave because he was so righteous and fearsome in his element. Yet, I could not bring myself to.

I don’t know that I can even say anything intelligent about his case because I cannot bring

myself to read little more than the broad outline of the story. I feel for his wife and children, this humiliation that they have had to endure.

A friend of mine, Jim Sleeper, brings a great deal of intelligence to any subject and the matter of Eliot Spitzer is no exception. I’ll quote extensively from his two columns at TPMCafe on the subject. Jim puts his finger on the essence of the matter in his first column on March 11:

It isn’t only New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer who’s had a big decision to make these past couple of days. So have Republican federal prosecutors, if they lack proof he misused public funds while patronizing a high-priced prostitution ring.

True enough, even if it’s about prostitution alone, the Spitzer scandal is a perfect hit for the U.S. Attorney – ethically and politically as well as technically in legal terms. When Spitzer was New York’s Attorney General, he inveighed so righteously against prostitution rings that, on that precedent alone, he has to resign.

But something else shadows this case besides Spitzer’s hypocritical moralism and even his bionic assaults on the corporate malefactors whose indictments brought him his fame and raised genuine hopes of reform.

There’s also the specter of Republican partisan revenge via politicized prosecutions. That thirst for political revenge is huge, but spending enormous federal resources against prostitution to get it isn’t very right in ethical and moral terms, even if it hoists Spitzer on his own petard.

Beyond any debate over whether prostitution should be legal or not, it seems the feds went all out to nail this one sorry excuse of a man. The last I heard our nation appears to be going to hell in a handbasket. Our economy is in shambles. The peso is about to outpace the dollar. And some of our nation’s best hope for the future are being slaughtered in meat grinders in Afghanistan and Iraq. And, while the feds were landing on Spitzer like a ton of bricks, what crimes were not being solved.

I’m sorry. I guess I went off. I don’t even believe this is Mr. Sleeper’s point. In any case, it was a wise piece and, if I’m going to quote anymore from it, I might as well run the whole thing. Or you could go read it here.

A day later, Jim came back with another great piece. Here’s how he started it:

Eliot Spitzer’s resignation is a tragedy in the strictest classical sense: The legal substance of his offenses pales before his stupidity, hypocrisy, and, yes, immorality in committing them. The legal substance pales also before the damage his character flaws have wreaked upon the public’s need — and, in his election, its now-dashed hope — for real government and market reform.

Since Spitzer, the former prosecutor and world-class public moralist, knew that high-priced prostitution rings often swim in organized crime and function as staging grounds for blackmail of prominent people, he has ended his public life perversely incarnating Henry Kissinger’s already perverse observation that “Power is the greatest aphrodisiac.”

But while Spitzer brought this on himself, that doesn’t let his Republican inquisitors entirely off the hook.

I will say this. Read the rest of Mr. Sleeper’s piece. We can always ponder what might have been. Although Spitzer was rash, undiplomatic, and downright obnoxious in his first 15 months as governor, somebody needed to crack heads in Albany and he was willing to do it. I mean Spitzer turned corrupt to the gills Joe Bruno into a sympathetic figure. That’s hard to do. Bruno and his partner in crime, Sheldon Silver, speaker of the state assembly, now get the run of Albany back. They get to again stand in the way of anything good that might come the way of the New York City or the state they’re supposed to serve.

I certainly wish Spitzer’s successor, Lt. Gov. David Patterson, (D-Harlem), much success. He’ll need it.

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