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Eliot Spitzer: don’t forgive, don’t forget


To err is human, they say, to forgive divine. Not being a divinity, I don’t think the last part applies to me–and definitely not in the case of Eliot Spitzer. The New York Times carries a revealing article and a mealy mouthed editorial (I don’t feel like linking to the latter) on Spitzer’s current bid for the post of comptroller of New York City. The article suggests that New Yorkers are, across the board, cool to Spitzer’s candidacy, but isn’t sufficiently clear why they should be. Here’s a quick thought or two on that.

Consider why we are in the position of having to “forgive” Eliot Spitzer at all. Forget the sordid details of his sexual shenanigans with high-priced hookers and the like. (What details do we know anyway? Frankly, what details would you really want to know?) In essence we’re obliged to “forgive” because Mr. Super Regulator was caught by government regulators violating government regulations.

Has the man re-thought his approach to the regulation of human behavior by force of law? Has he decided that the government ought to ease up a bit? Has he gone on a public campaign to legalize prostitution? Has he decided to “forgive” the people he hounded and prosecuted before he himself was caught violating government regulations? No, no, no, and no. Rest assured that none of these thoughts have so much as crossed Eliot Spitzer’s mind. What he’s done is to serve up a heap of transparently disingenuous horseshit about his “personal failings,” his belief in “responsibility,” and the elevated expectations he has of himself, kept himself safely in the public eye but out of government, and then–having waited a conveniently long-short interval since the transgression itself–decided to take yet another stab at controlling (or “comptrolling”) people’s lives.

Christine Quinn (the Speaker of the NYC Council) asks the right question in the Times article: what has Spitzer done to earn his forgiveness? Answer: less than nothing. Did he do any hard time for his crimes? No, he wasn’t even charged with them. He walked away from crimes he confessed to having committed, got himself some lucrative teaching and talking gigs, treaded political water for awhile, then saw his chance to take yet another grab at power on the premise that all is forgiven and forgotten–that no one can recognize an unapologetic, hypocritical power luster when they see one. If you think forgiveness is something that ought to be given away for free–from some metaphysical equivalent of grace–feel free to do so. But then prepare to have your face, and your fellow citizens’ faces, slapped in the near future.

For a glimpse into the psyche of this inveterate power luster and control freak, I suggest reading the Wikipedia entry about him and Roger Donway’s expose a few years ago in The Atlas Society’s The New Individualist. They make for informative but not exactly pleasant reading.

My advice: if you live in New York, vote for Scott Stringer, vote NOTA, or vote not-Spitzer, but find some way, any way, to vote against Spitzer and to voice your displeasure about his candidacy as loudly as you can. He doesn’t deserve to show his face in public, much less to control the budget of the City of New York. He’s the personification of the need for checks and limits on government power. The first check begins with popular opinion. We should use it.


P.S., July 11: Columnist Jim Dwyer makes an additional anti-Spitzer point I hadn’t known before I read his column yesterday:

Frayed and tattered, Mr. Spitzer is being defined by frenzy, not the merits of his public service, or his worthiness for forgiveness, redemption or any of that.

One result of such chaos is that he cannot be bothered to square his past ideals about campaign finances with his current plans. Asked about it on Monday by Brian Lehrer of WNYC, Mr. Spitzer said he would use his own money.

The other Democrat in the race, Scott M. Stringer, was participating in the public financing program of the city, Mr. Lehrer noted.

Mr. Spitzer seemed to scoff at that as any sign of virtue on Mr. Stringer’s part.

“He’ll be spending your money,” Mr. Spitzer said. “I’ll be spending my own money. That’s all.”

This was the man who, as governor, gave his first State of the State address in January 2007 and declared, “We are in danger of losing the confidence of those who elected us.”

He added: “Full public financing must be the ultimate goal of our reform effort. By cutting off the demand for private money, we will cut off the special interest influence that comes with it.”

So in 2007, he was the champion of the very program that he all but sneered at on Monday.


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