The Fall of Elliot Spitzer

I have no sympathy. I can’t help it, but powerful people who behave this way strike me as the essence of…

Spitzer wired the call girl service the money. Granted, he set up a relatively elaborate blind to hide the transaction (it was his own money, not the state’s), primarily from his wife, but the fact is he established the monitoring protocols in the banking system in New York to catch exactly this kind of covert transfer. In other words, he made sure the system could catch him.

The first question that came to my mind was: why didn’t he use cash?

The second question—

Well, the second question is such a cliche it almost doesn’t bear asking, but: what he hell was he thinking?

Not thinking. Acting. Reacting. Making an assumption. I’ve already heard the term “self destructive” applied, and it would indeed seem the case. He was instrumental in breaking up a prominent prostitution ring as a prosecutor, he’d gone on record about the destructiveness of prostitution to families and to society, he had made a Big Deal about ethics in all his campaigns.

For the record, while I certainly agree that prostitution can be destructive, I do not agree that it is necessarily so. Like other things, it depends on context, and in the context of a society that criminalizes it, thereby making sex workers vulnerable to all sorts of criminal control elements, yes it is very destructive. But not in and of itself as an idea. There have been times and places where it was not so, and even in this country (Nevada) we can see instances where it is the avenue to financial independence for women and men (yes, men—we forget in the salaciousness of scandal that there are male prostitutes, both straight and gay, that women from time to time have been known to pay for sex they can’t get “at home”). Like any other industry, there are levels, and like any otehr industry in history where social controls did not exist, there are abuses. Keeping it illegal means normative protections and access to all the safeguards that, say, construction workers take for granted do not and cannot apply.

However. In Spitzer’s case he created his own disaster by loudly proclaiming his support for keeping prostitution illegal and then acting on that stance. Add to that the banking practices for which he was also responsible, and I find I have no sympathy for him. He acted foolishly.

Clinton did not run on an extreme family values platform. It was there, he gave it lip service, but it was never a centerpiece of any of his campaigns. One may question his judgment in the case of Monica, but the lying to Congress was far worse than his little breech of conduct in an anteroom of the Oval Office.

People at that level should know better. To be crude, they have staff who can handle that sort of thing. (Let’s be honest—even CEOs, presidents of corporations, and so forth hire “handlers” who do everything from scheduling high powered meetings to getting the cleaning done. Arranging trysts—and making sure they stay off the radar– would simply be one of their functions, and a governor, much less a president, should have two or three people like this.)

As to why he did it…do we really need to ask that? Come on. Sex and its convolutions is one of those areas wherein we turn a blind eye as if a part of our brain had been excised and we can’t bear to think about it.

What follows is R rated. You’ve been warned.

You’re married. You have 90% of a good relationship with your spouse. But you like this one thing in bed, really like it, the way wine connosieurs like a rare Bordeaux—and for whatever reason your spouse just won’t do it. The question is, do you just shut that desire off and go to your grave never having it? Or do you step outside to have your Bordeaux?

We all have choices, sure, but the nature of that one seems draconian. You might say to the connosieur “You’ve become an alcoholic, you may not drink at all,” and that would be valid. But to say “I don’t like Bordeaux, at least not that vintage, so you can’t have it either as long as you’re with me…” That’s not the same.

How one chooses to handle this problem is also another matter. I’m all for open discussion. Sneaking around behind your spouse’s back is a major Do Not Do for me. But one ought to be able to talk about this. (Personally, I have always been of the opinion that the Clinton’s have an arrangement like this, going all the way back to Bill’s days as governor of Arkansas. I think what incensed Hilary was that Bill picked that partner under those conditions, and then lied about it. After all, he had handlers…)

But my lack of sympathy for Spitzer has nothing to do with the sex. It is the two-faced way he has conducted his public policy life. Obviously, he thought the rules he advocated for everyone else ought not to apply to him.

Or, more perversely and I think not at all uncommon, he wanted to rid the landscape of any and all opportunity in order to keep temptation away from himself—that he knew on some level that he couldn’t say no, so the only way to protect his integrity would be to banish the object of his desire.

But that meant banishing it for everyone else as well. So to serve the interests of his own inability to manage an appetite, everyone had to pay the price.

Just as they kind of are now.

He rendered himself ineffective as a governor in this. Because of the illegal nature of prostitution, because of that he opened himself up to blackmail. The only way out of that trap would be to declare that he didn’t care and that he believed prostitution ought not be a crime in any event.

But he’d already closed that avenue of argument.

No sympathy at all.


Published by Mark Tiedemann