The Saga of Eliot Spitzer Part I

What You Need To Know: A Summary For You Lazy Asses
New York Governor Eliot Spitzer got caught with a
prostitute but that doesn’t mean he should have to resign.  Why should have to resign?
It will be a shame to see Spitzer go if he does, as he
was a good Democrat throughout his eight years as Attorney General and one year
as Governor. 

On Monday, March 10 2008, the story broke that New York
Governor Eliot Spitzer (D) used the services of a prostitution ring.  What followed was the media circus and
hysterical hoopla one would expect in a nation with the maturity of a five-year
old.  Then came the overused verbal
attack ubiquitous in political sex scandals – calls for Spitzer’s resignation,
mostly coming from Republicans.

As I stated in The
Saga of Larry Craig
, concerning another high-profile politician
embroiled in a sex scandal, I believe a politician should resign only if their
activities are compromising their ability to perform their duties in office,
have done so in the past and/or will do so in the future.  Generally speaking, sex scandals do not fall
under this category (unless it’s a case where, for example, sexual favors are
exchanged for political ones). 
Spitzer’s case is no exception; hiring a prostitute in and of itself
hardly compromises political duties and I don’t even think it should be a
crime, period (more on that in the soon-to-come second part of this column).

Like most politicians snagged in sex scandals, Spitzer is
certainly guilty of hypocrisy, having himself busted two prostitution rings
during his distinguished tenure as New York’s Attorney General.  But hypocrisy is not a crime and, despite
what some may argue, isn’t grounds for resignation either.  Politicians practice hypocrisy all the time
(though they even more commonly use hypocrisy’s kissing cousin, the
flip-flop).  Unless there’s a direct
conflict involved, hypocrisy doesn’t inherently suggest an inability to perform
the duties of the office.

Yes, he did seek to vigorously present himself as having
high ethical standards.  But I always
thought that his moral bona fides were in the context of the boardroom, not the
bedroom.  To put white-collar corporate
crimes that afflict thousands of people on the same moral level as hiring a
prostitute is – how do I put this – STUPID.

I have yet to hear a good reason as to why Spitzer should
resign, but in all likelihood that will be the outcome.  Which brings up the question: if Spitzer has
to resign for using a prostitute, why shouldn’t Senator David Vitter (R-La.),
who has also used prostitutes, have to do the same thing?  It’s totally unfair for Spitzer to “have to”
resign when Vitter apparently doesn’t. (And don’t fret, little Republicans,
there’s a nice conservative Republican governor now to pick Vitter’s

P.S. Besides my belief that there are no grounds for
resignation here, I will be especially sad to see Spitzer go because he was
such a strong Democrat.  During his
eight years as Attorney General he went after corporate criminals and Wall
Street with a vengeance (which might explain why cheers
erupted in the New York Stock Exchange upon news of the scandal
and in the first stormy year of his governorship he tried to bring reform to
the state government in Albany.

P.P.S. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m putting columns on
scandals (especially sex scandals) under the title “The Saga of [insert
person’s name]”.  It’s a pattern I
started with Larry
and Vanessa
.  In all these
cases, the scandals are usually blown way out of proportion and
hypersensationalized, mostly to feed the appetites of Americans who still have
their heads stuck up their asses when it comes to the relative importance of
public figures’ private lives.

MARCH 11 2008 ADDENDUM: Just to be perfectly clear on
this, I’m hoping that Governor Spitzer does NOT resign, and I would not
resign if I were him, and I would be calling for him to stay in office if I
were a fellow New York Democrat.


6 thoughts on “The Saga of Eliot Spitzer Part I

  1. From the New York Post, which chronicled a few of Pitzer’s more recent foibles: * The Dirty Tricks scandal, which saw top Spitzer aides sending the State Police to spy on Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno. Spitzer’s precise complicity in the abuse of power remains unknown.* His uncontrollable temper, best exemplified by his now-famous “I’m a [expletive] steamroller, and I will destroy you” tirade to Assembly Minority Leader Jim Tedisco, not long before reportedly referring to Bruno, in the wake of the Dirty Tricks scandal, as “an old, senile piece of sh–.”* His overt hypocrisy, like the encouragement of political donors looking to subvert the strict gift limits he so publicly set for himself. I don’t think he’s the saint you make him out to be. Ethics of prostitution aside, his hooker trysts violate the Mann Act and leave him open to felony prosecution–not in the best interest of the state. He’s also apparently used Nixonian tactics in spying on the Senate Majority Leader (who, oddly enough, is in the same party)–not in the best interest of the state.

  2. Moreover, the statute of limitations had expired on Vitter’s crimes, while Spitzer may well be subject to prosecution either for the prostitution links, or more seriously, under the laws against “structuring.”You may as well ask why Clinton didn’t have to resign: lots of people (including me) think prostitution should be legal, but nobody thinks perjury should be legal. Part of the answer probably has to do with the fact that the New York Democrats are focused on getting the state Senate back from the Republicans, and the fact that Democrats mostly like his replacement, David Paterson.

  3. @DanielWatts – He’s not perfect, obviously. Yeah the spying on Bruno (who’s a Republican, btw) is excessive. His bad temper and strong-arm style are actually pluses in my book given how weak most Democrats are. And being prosecuted doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t continue to serve in office, as we saw with Bill Clinton.

  4. @goreism – I know the statute of limitations expired for Vitter’s case, but that doesn’t necessarily make the difference between resigning or not resigning in many people’s minds. Legal action doesn’t necessarily keep people from doing their job, and the question of whether or not a politician should resign doesn’t always seem to correlate with whether or not s/he is in legal trouble. Nor should it – there shouldn’t be a rule saying that a politician should automatically resign upon breaking a law, particularly with how many ridiculous laws are out there (including the one against prostitution).I don’t think Bill Clinton should have resigned. I don’t think Vitter, Larry Craig, and Mark Foley should have resigned either. In all those cases, as with the Spitzer case, there was no abuse of power or crimes against the public committed; it was just a politician’s private life.

  5. There was never any chance of Clinton being convicted (at least) until he left office. Not so with Elliot Ness here.Nobody said Spitzer “had to” resign; only that he should. You really think he could continue his high-stakes brinksmanship with Bruno after this? With the New York State Senate hanging Republican by a thread, it’s pretty questionable that Spitzer could “do his job”—that is, taking back the Senate—with this hanging over his head.

  6. @goreism – Having seen what happened with Clinton during his sex scandal – picking up five House seats despite the Republicans campaigning almost entirely on Clinton’s personal life – I think there’s a way for politicians to make the case to people that they should separate personal lives from public life. Certainly in my view a politician’s private life – and that is exactly what this is – is separate from what he does in office (unless there is corruption involved but there’s no evidence of that here).Granted, there are differences between Clinton’s situation and Spitzer’s. But I don’t think Spitzer should have resigned until he was convicted. (I understand that resignation may have been part of a deal with prosecutors to avoid more serious legal action; I’ve been writing thus far without consideration to that aspect.)

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