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March 17, 2008
Eliot Spitzer’s Sudden
One of the brightest stars in American politics has wrecked his career
thanks to recklessness and stupidity. Eliot Spitzer, the man who looked
like a transformative figure in New York politics, and possibly even a
future presidential contender, has now left the office of governor of
New York after only 13 months, thanks to a prostitution scandal.
The scandal and its aftermath are shocking for many reasons – from the
sudden fall of a rising political star to the sordidness of all the
details to the hypocrisy angle, as a man who went after the bad guys
with vigor but turned out to be not such a great guy himself.
Unlike anyone in politics since Rudy Giuliani, Spitzer built his image
as that of a tough-as-nails prosecutor who, as New York’s two-term
attorney general, rode a series of successful convictions and
enforcement actions into higher office. As a result, Spitzer was as
reviled on Wall Street as any political figure in recent memory. And the
Street certainly rejoiced at his departure, for a few days anyway, until
the near-collapse of Bear Stearns quickly reclaimed their attention.
Regardless, Spitzer most likely can’t count on a post-gubernatorial job
with Goldman Sachs or Merrill Lynch.
Perhaps most shocking is that Spitzer, a born lawyer who has conducted
hundreds of criminal prosecutions and clearly knows criminal procedures
backwards and forwards, would do so many things that could so clearly
cause him to be caught. Large cash transfers? Illegal commerce over
interstate lines? Talking, uncoded, on a cell phone about criminal
activity? As one blogger pointed out, even the 15-year-olds on The
Wire know better than to do any of that.
What with sex, money, politics and the misfortunate of a Democratic
politician all coming together in one story, the Spitzer story was in
the wheelhouse of the New York Post more than any for a decade.
And they didn't disappoint, devoting 11 pages of coverage to the scandal
the first day and not letting up for the rest of the week. Later in the
week, the name, photos and even the Myspace page of Spitzer’s favored
prostitute surfaced, with the Post giving it major play and late
night talk hosts being handed dozens of easy jokes.
The Spitzer affair has also brought up questions of whether political
wives should stand by their husbands, as well as the ancient debate –
call it the world’s oldest debate – over whether prostitution should be
legal. Whether it should be or not will likely not be solved as a result
of this, though it was, of course, illegal at the time that Spitzer did
There’s also the question of whether the scandal will have any effect on
the presidential race. Will it? Most likely not. Spitzer's scandal could
remind some voters of the Clinton scandals of the ’90s, which could
either help Hillary or hurt her, depending on whether voters feel like
punishing her or feeling sorry for her.
And yes, Spitzer is both a Hillary endorser and superdelegate, but I
can't imagine that many people care enough about such a thing that it
would affect their vote. New York’s primary already took place, and the
general election is so far away that it’s likely a dozen scandals at
least will emerge between now and then. I call it a draw.
The scandal will, though, affect presidential politics another way:
Spitzer had often been mentioned as good a bet as anyone in America to
become the first Jewish president of the United States. This idea, of
course, will now not come to pass, although Spitzer did give way to
another first – David Paterson, who will become both the first
African-American and the first legally blind individual to serve as
governor of New York.
Indeed, the same day the Spitzer scandal became public, Mike Ciresi
announced that he was dropping out of the Minnesota U.S. Senate race,
effectively ceding the Democratic nomination to comedian Al Franken. So
yes, Spitzer has gone, in 24 hours, from the most likely first Jewish
president to one less likely to earn that distinction than Al Franken.
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