Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Eliot Spitzer and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

By Mitchell

Yesterday was a bad day to be Governor of New York, and by all indications today isn’t going to be any better.

It’s a challenge trying to find anything to say about this sad situation that hasn’t already been said. Of course, that doesn’t stop most pundits, and I doubt it’s going to stop us either. But there are, I think, a couple of observations that are worth making:

Let’s take a moment first of all and say a word in praise of honest language. Listening to the spin doctors working their magic was enough to make one throw up, as it usually is. Predictably, there was this missive from the Republican Governors Association, calling on Spitzer to resign to

"allow the people of New York to pursue honest leadership. . .The American people are tired of corrupt and hypocritical politicians. The governor of New York is just another in the long list of politicians that have failed their constituents," said Nick Ayers, the association's executive director.

Now I ask you: is there any real feeling, any passion, in that statement? Does it stir you to act, or just to go for the Pepto-Bismol? Not only that, it winds up sounding simply like the words of a partisan hack - which it is. Then there was this series of email blasts from the NRCC (which I believe stands for National Republican Campaign Committee) attacking candidates who have received contributions from Spitzer:

NRCC-Communications» Will Eric Massa Return Spitzer's Sleazy Money?
NRCC-Communications» Will Dan Maffei Return Spitzer's Sleazy Money?
NRCC-Communications» Will John Hall Return Spitzer's Sleazy Money?
NRCC-Communications» Will Michael Arcuri Return Spitzer's Sleazy Money?
NRCC-Communications» Will Kirsten Gillibrand Return Spitzer's Sleazy Money?

Give me a break. Again, I ask you, does this wince-inducing bromide really accomplish anything? As NRO's David Freddoso points out, "I'd actually admire any one of them who has the courage to keep the money and say: 'Well, at least this $2,300 won't be spent on a whore!'"

Now, by contrast, take the comments of New York Representative (and Republican) Peter King:

"Spitzer himself was very severe going after prostitution rings that had to do with white collar crimes. He was very hard-nosed with his tactics. To leave himself open to blackmail — putting himself and the state in a compromised position like that — it's just awful. . He's going to have to resign...At one level, it has to do with his integrity and his personal morality, but I don't even want to go into that. Without even touching on that, he has to resign...I'm one of those people who actually said Clinton should not have been impeached. I try to avoid personal moral issues in politics. But prostitution rings are invariably linked to organized crime. He, as the former attorney general and the current governor, had to know about the link between organized crime and prostitution rings."

Now, I don’t care whether you agree with King or not. My point is that here at last was a true bit of straight talk. It wasn’t crude or demeaning nor, I thought, unduly harsh; at the same time it wasn’t the bland, predictable, memorized, by-the-numbers type of statement that sounds more like a speech than an honest observation, and a very bad speech at that. King meant what he said and he said what he meant, and I respect that.

Second, it does seem that what goes around comes around. Notwithstanding the shock and surprise so many seemed to experience following the revelation, it appears that Spitzer wasn’t necessarily all that nice a guy. Again, King: "I don't know anyone who is more self-righteous or unforgiving than Eliot Spitzer. So he's going to have a hard time finding friends right now...” And you read this kind of thing in several places: talk that Spitzer had a double-standard, that he unnecessarily

Then there was this from John Podhoretz, which I think lays out the case nicely (and points out that things like this seldom come clear out of the blue):

The thing is, Eliot Spitzer is a crook. I’m not referring to the current prostitution scandal. I’m not referring to the scandal last year involving his senior aides and the leaking of confidential police information to the Albany Times Union. I’m not referring to the threatening phone call he made to the august John Whitehead, retired head of Goldman Sachs, who had the temerity to question a case Spitzer was building against an old friend of Whitehead’s. I’m referring to his conduct dating back to 1994, when he designed a complex scheme involving loans and real estate and collateralized apartments to evade campaign-finance laws so that his own father, Bernard Spitzer, could pay for his campaign as attorney general of New York state. Millions of dollars. And then, in 1998, running for the same office, he did it again. It’s hard to explain, but basically, Spitzer’s father gave him a lot of real estate. He used it to secure loans totaling more than $8 million. Then his father paid back the loans. He was supposed to pay his father back. He said he did. Then he acknowledged he hadn’t. Then somehow it all went away. I’m not a big fan of campaign-finance laws, but they are laws, and they are supposed to apply to everybody.

So what happens next? I don’t pretend to know whether or not Spitzer will resign, but I think he should. There’s the political angle, of course – what he did was (choose one or more) illegal, unethical, immoral – and that combination ought to cost you your job, when that job is built upon the public trust. Regardless of how repentant he may be, there is generally a price that has to be paid for the violation of that trust. Even the Good Thief wasn’t spared death on the cross, after all.

More significant, though, is the cost in human terms. We don’t know what caused Spitzer to do what he did. It could have been anything from poor judgment to an addiction or sickness, but I think we should be very gentle with him in this respect. We should look at him with compassion and understanding. Whether we agree with him or not we can't cease to care about him and his family as human beings. The important thing is that he gets the help he needs, whether that means professional help or merely time away from the spotlight to try and put his family back together.

Destructive behavior such as this doesn’t usually change overnight. Even for those who are absolutely dedicated to riding themselves of such urges, it can take a great deal of time and effort, perhaps over a lifetime, to overcome it. Although we may call this a weakness of character, that is only part of it - it is a weakness born of an overriding ego, a will that puts itself over that of God’s. As Paul comments, it is only when one truly becomes weak that they can obtain the strength that is found in God.

Again, we don’t know what lies behind Spitzer’s actions. Perhaps even he doesn’t know. But for his sake, and that of his wife and daughters, the proper thing to do is to take his medicine – to resign from office, to accept whatever legal consequences there are, and to address the most important issue facing him – his life.

Maybe it’s no accident that this has happened in the waning days of Lent, as we walk deeper into the shadow of the Cross, for Eliot Spitzer and his family are surely going through a Lenten trial of their own. One can only hope that this terrible moment will result in something that will strengthen their marriage, that will make him a better, more humble man. It often seems, to those in the middle of such turmoil, that this is an impossible task. But, as we all know, with God nothing is impossible.

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