Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Eliot Spitzer

I'm not at all interested in the actual scandal or its details, but here's how I see this story. It says a lot about politics and power in this country:

1) Don't piss off and send to jail a bunch of Wall Street bankers and investors. They will come after you. It seems he made too many enemies in high places.
2) When do we start separating the public life from the private life of powerful and influential politicians? Will there be anyone left to lead or to govern? Seriously, who's gonna tell me that those with power and influence don't screw around? Should someone like FDR have resigned as well for infidelity? Did that make him unfit to be president?
3) Resign over violations or corruption that directly relate to the job, not over some sordid, salacious and very expensive trysts, unless the person somehow embezzled public funds to satisfy his urges, granted technically he did break some federal laws. See:
4) Don't know all the details but seems like even Democrats hated Spitzer and probably triggered his downfall. All the more evidence that most, if not all, politicians have something to hide, instead of supporting a self-proclaimed crusader like Spitzer, and that has nothing to do with partisanship.
5) Such petty politics and powerplay in NY? What was Spitzer even thinking? Probably nothing since he certainly is not the only one paying for escorts.
6) Spitzer was foolishly hypocritical. Apparently, he took down the Wall Street bankers for practices that most in Wall Street knew well and generally accepted. See Slate article:

Surely, Spitzer sealed his own fate over lustful temptations, but I don't believe that automatically disqualifies him to be governor. It's just a given in the American psyche that any sex that is not with your own wife should disqualify you for public office. Much harder to impeach a president for it, though, we've discovered...O that Slick Willie...


Brian Menard said...

1) The problem here was not that he made too many enemies in the areas he tried to prosecute. The problem here was that he was an arrogant jerk in his tactics, so lots of people disliked him whether he went after them or not.
2) Kristengate, if you will, is not a matter of needing to separate public and private life. You know how I feel about Clinton's indescretions, and they pale in comparison to this - forgive me - ballsy escapade. Spitzer is the one who brought the private and public realms together by involving himself privately in an illegal activity that he had prosecuted more than once in his public life. Even more significant is that he broke local, state, and Federal laws in the process. Do we have laws or don't we? Does a governor get to disregard laws as he wishes because he's got the hots for a hooker? This isn't like Rob Lowe's Sam character spending the night with a woman he didn't know was a prostitute in the first episode of "West Wing". This is the Governor of New York going to great lengths in New York to arrange a liaison in DC with a NYC hooker, with his constituents paying for his transportation to DC, for his hotel room, and for his police guard while he got his rocks off. Sorry, we'll just have to disagree on this one. As for FDR, yeah, he should have resigned. The one good think I can say about Spitzer - as much as I surprize myself for saying it - is that he had the dignity and shame to say, "Yup, I screwed up and I'll take the consequences because you guys deserve better than what I gave you." Had Clinton, FDR, JFK, and plenty others had the decency to do the same - or, better yet, not screw around in the first place - who knows what the state of our culture and politics might be today.
3) He did resign over violations or corruption that directly relate to the job. See comments above about breaking local, state, and national laws with NY taxpayers footing the bill for all but "Kristen" herself.
4) It had nothing to do with partisanship, but everything to do with his hypocrisy, arrogance, and superior attitude. But I guess it's easy to have such guts when you've got an $80 million safety net if your crusading falls flat.
5) I'm not sure where you're going with this.
6) Yes, Spitzer sealed his own fate over lustful temptations. Again, I think we'll have to disagree here. What he did should be a clear and easy disqualification for public life. It's not just a matter of American preoccupation with sex, but a matter of law and order and no one being too big to be held accountable for breaking the law.

Young Kim said...

Why does marital infidelity automatically disqualify a person from public office? Why does it even have to be public knowledge? How does it even relate to the ability to govern or to be a politician? I'm asking in the general sense, not Spitzer in particular. Really, FDR should have resigned? Preposterous! I don't have that much admiration and respect for JFK, but I understand how much the Reps love to take down the iconic Dem presidents. I would concede to you a bit that things might be a lot different or even better had JFK and Clinton not screwed around, but FDR resigning during the Depression or WWII would have been better? That's a tough sell. I am not sure where you're going with that, actually.

I'm not saying turn a blind eye to lawbreakers, but the real hypocrisy is that Spitzer is not the only one who pays for expensive sex. His downfall is that he got caught, but how many public officials would be in the same boat as him if the same investigation were focused on them? They should all resign, then, and perhaps that's the best criterion on which to "throw the bums out". This is where I was going with point number 5). I'm not trying to defend cheaters but rather discounting the holier-than-thou notion that you can't be in politics unless you keep your wick clean.

I wouldn't give Spitzer any credit for resigning quickly because that would be false (similar to that would-be speaker Livingston who cried Jimmy Swaggart-like tears as he himself resigned after having his own sex scandal exposed, and he even tried to make himself a moral example as he demanded Clinton to resign over Lewinsky. I think I respect Clinton for NOT resigning over Lewinsky, as a matter of principle). If Spitzer had real balls he would have said that he will resign if all other public officials who pay for sex also resign. Wouldn't that be the correct conservative principle to follow, to say that a wrong is wrong no matter who does it?

Whether through arrogance or other factors, you seem to agree with me that Spitzer made many enemies. Those same enemies probably had a lot to lose had he succeeded in his promised reforms and house cleaning. Politics is about playing along in the game everyone is playing and scratching each other's back. Anyone who deviates from this game will get cut down mercilessly, henceforth known as "getting Spitzered".

Brian Menard said...
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Brian Menard said...

I am, of course, speaking in the normative sense, the OUGHT instead of the IS. As such, though, perhaps I should go further and, rather than suggesting they should resign, instead suggest that they should not cheat in their marriages. Vows mean something, but only matter when we - individually and culturally - ascribe weight to their meaning. That is the root of the convergence of unfitness for public office with private indiscretions. Public servants raise their hands and take an oath, just as in marriage they take a vow. Neither one is easy to keep, and temptation lurks everywhere you go. But the difficulty both entail marks the significance of the oath/vow. If they mean nothing, and if violating them is no big deal, let's not perpetuate the charade and we can just do away with both institutions. But if there is a reason for marriage, and if there is a reason for having public servants, we have to look at the full picture of what both involve, and that includes TRUST. We trust our spouses to be faithful, hard as it may be at times during the course of a marriage. Temptation exists, and people make bad decisions. I know that quite painfully from growing up in a family where my dad bizarrely took pride in saying that he had only slept with two women in his life and married them both - conveniently overlooking the fact that he started sleeping with the second one while he was still married to the first one. So I'm not out to crucify someone for an instance or even an extensive period of choosing poorly. Perfect example: Spitzer's successor started his first day as New York's new governor by admitting to a rocky period in his marriage when he and his wife both messed around. Presuming the 1999-2001 timeframe he gave was the extent of it rather than continuing today, that they repaired the damage in their marriage, and are faithful to each other now, I would argue against any calls for him to step down. My knock on FDR, JFK, and Clinton are not because they are Democrats or because they messed up at one point in their lives. All three cases are well-substantiated examples of guys who had no regard for their marriage vows. It's on both sides of the aisle. The only wiggle room I would give to Sen. Vitter - who I think should have resigned, but didn't - is that he (apparently) had squelched his prostitute habit by the time it became public, and was already attoning privately with his family, rather than being caught up in the mess while his illegal behavior was in full swing. Another often-rumored GOP example is Eisenhower, but I've only heard such rumors attributed to his Army days and not his White House days, and I've only heard it as rumor as opposed to having solid substantiation. I agree completely about Bob Livingston. Likewise, as much as I liked Newt Gingrich in the House, his private life was a shambles and I blame only him for his departure tied to the impeachment proceedings (though I again emphasize my support for Clinton's impeachment is not that he had "notsex" with Monica Lewinksy, but that he lied under oath and obstructed justice to protect his dalliances). Now, if - as it seems - he is better able to stick to his vows now, I would not be opposed to his resuming public service...though I would certainly understand folks being leery. Likewise, if I thought Bill Clinton could keep his pants on, I might feel differently about him, but he's never been able even to admit that demon in his live with any sincerity, let alone try to conquer it. So I'm not saying that marital infidelity is an automatic disqualification for holding public office. If someone has demonstrated bad judgment in the past, but has learned from the experience and bettered himself or herself from it instead of languishing in its depravity, I have no problem with that. I am quite aware that we are all sinners, Paul the Apostle was Saul the Pursecutor before he got knocked off his donkey on the way to Damascus, and Peter even denied Jesus after being his Rock for three years. But there is a psychology of sin, and there is a difference between someone who is repentant for past sins, someone whom temptation induces to slip from good intention because "the spirit in willing by the flesh is weak", and someone who is wholly caught up in the carnal satisfaction of sin without a scintilla of remorse, acknowledgement that they are doing something they shouldn't, or care about the damage their actions cause. A new CDC report apparently shows that 1/4 of all teenage girls (not just those sexually active, but ALL; 1/5 of white girls, and 1/2 of black girls) have STDs...and a large portion have them in their mouth and throat after they "did not have sexual relations" with boys. It's no coincidence that teen particiaption rates in oral sex skyrocketed after Clinton's escapades and parsings. Yes, there is public damage, and he should have resigned. (This doesn't start to touch upon the damage it did in the realm of workplace sexual harrassment - how can any organization make a credible case against inappropriate power-based relationships when POTUS is doing an intern.) As for your suggestiont that Spitzer should have said he'd go when every other public official who has paid for sex also goes, I agree in principal to your demand for consistency, but I think that is the reverse of what we should expect. Instead of using others' bad acts to justify his own in order to stay in power, ensuring the lowest common denominator in our public servants, he should have added to his "I'm leaving office because I messed up and violated the public trust" statement something like, "and I urge public servants everywhere - Republicans, Democrats, and independents - to exmaine their own private actions amid public life and either live up to the expectations we have for our public officials or get out of office."

Young Kim said...

More later, but just briefly...A sex scandal is a weapon used for character assassination to ruin one's career in the political arena, especially in this country. I don't give it much weight to judge or evaluate a person's aptitude for leadership and statesmanship.

You mentioned TRUST. I would give much more weight to the person's inclination to promote corporate interests over middle and working classes, siphon public funds for personal use, be bought out by lobbyists, favor public policies that help your own financial gain, practice nepotism or cronyism, breaking laws that actually obstruct justice (instead of lying about an affair in public which most people would do if they were asked, especially when it's hardly related to the so-called Whitewater Investigation), or send our young men and women off to a war that was wholly unnecessary, to judge whether a person is fit for public office. Compared to the above a sex scandal is no more than simple tabloid gossip spread around to distract the public from the real issues and corruption in government and big business.

Here's a Greg Palast blog that sees the Spitzer thing a little differently, albeit a very left view:

Brian Menard said...

As I said in an earlier post on the topic, I think we'll just have to disagree here. One think you could clarify for me, though, is whether you do not see a connection between Spitzer's illegal activities and his public responsibilities or if you don't think the connection is important.

Young Kim said...

No, I don't see such a scandal as a very important connection to judge someone's ability to be in politics. I would grant that there is a degree of public responsibility in having our leaders respect marriage and fidelity. However, I do not agree with the social conservative arguments that somehow the Lewinsky affair caused more promiscuity and oral sex among the impressionable teens. That connection seems entirely misplaced and misguided.

At the risk of being politically incorrect, perhaps we should demand chastity and celibacy from all of our public servants; would a priest or a pastor fit the bill? I know that's not what you're advocating, BRM, but there is a slippery slope of theocracy lurking around in the social conservative sentiments.

So is it just a matter of timing in a sense? If you have been unfaithful and promiscuous in the past, that's okay as long as you've repented or have "changed your ways"? I think that just means that we give everyone a chance, sinners or saints, until they screw up again or for the first time. But then, we're just back to square one. Let's choose our leaders on whether they are intelligent, capable and compentent, not just on whether they are sexually responsible and self-controlled.