Eminentoes

Sultan of Sanctimony Brought Down

There may be one or two good things to say about Spitzer...

By 3.12.08

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I love the smell of Schadenfreude in the morning.

I grew up with some much better number nines. There was Ted Williams and Minnie Minoso. Two of my favorites. That's why when I played for the Tampa White Sox, an over-40 amateur baseball team in the nineties, I wore number nine. But Eliot Spitzer has besmirched the number, which if I were still playing I would change.

The first clue Monday that something was on was the puzzling, staccato background noise that turned out to be champagne corks popping on Wall Street, though I didn't know it at the time. So I tuned in Fox News where I learned that another Mr. Public Ethics "progressive" has followed his johnson into scandal. A career-ending scandal we can all hope. But, as has been his style for years, Eliot Spitzer is going to make it hard on everyone for as long as possible.

Don't start building the scaffold yet. Spitzer and the New York political establishment are, after all, Democrats. That party invented and then defended the uplifting political standard of "Hey, what's the big deal? It's just about sex."

New York State House Republicans are wrestling in the current session with a state tax deficit of $5 billion. They need this distraction about like Custer needed more Indians. They've given Spitzer 48 hours to get out of town. But waiting for Eliot Spitzer to do the honorable thing is a little like dropping a feather down a well and waiting for the splash. As this is being written Tuesday evening, there was no resignation in sight.

Yet Spitzer is probably toast, and will likely soon be unemployed. The "Sheriff of Wall Street" gave no sympathy during his horrific career, and he will get none now. But we can't be certain what the ending of this one will be (verily anything short of public horse-whipping is insufficient) when we remember the career of the boy president from Hope, who remains in the public eye, ear, nose and throat these many years after, "I did not have sex with that woman...," "kiss it," and, "Better put some ice on that."

AS JOURNALISTS AND NEW YORK politicians stand the resignation watch, my sources are developing a story on the suspiciously heavy recent phone traffic between Albany and Chappaqua. In the case of Billy-Bob (the guy who promised he was going to lead Washington's most moral administration ever), his sleazy, perhaps even criminal, behavior not only didn't end his career, it hardly cut significantly into his approval ratings. It even led to an offer of services from a highly placed woman national journalist, the details of which we can pass over for now.

So it's easy to see why Spitzer would seek counsel from the Bill. But we can pray that even counsel from the master of misbehavior won't help Eliot. Part of the reason, probably the principal part, that Bill escaped the consequences of his wretched behavior was his smarmy but very real charm. Charm that the abrasive Eliot doesn't possess. There will be no FOE (Friends of Eliot) to rally around him. While James Tedisco, the Republican head of the New York assembly, has called for Spitzer's resignation, there's has been hardly a supportive peep from Spitzer's Democratic Party. Oh, Alan Dershowitz came to his defense. But Alan has made a career of defending the indefensible, and no one pays much attention anymore.

"The allegations against the governor are before the public," said Democratic New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. "I have nothing to add at this time."

How's that for getting a guy's back?

Eliot has only himself to blame for the lack of support even from his own party. In a long career as a zealous prosecutor, possessed of an ambition that would put Lady Macbeth to shame, Spitzer has been arrogant, egotistical, self-righteous, and absolutely vicious in the way he pursued the targets of his investigations. Compared to Eliot, Inspector Javert was a slacker, Mike Nifong a Solomon. The man is a scorpion, and he's made no friends. There are SUVs large enough to comfortably seat every person in the lower-48 whom Spitzer has not irritated the living hell out of. His personality is more like one of the cold showers he should have been taking.

In many ways Spitzer's behavior in his public career has been much worse than the current private peccadilloes that will likely be his undoing. (And if hanging around with prostitutes is a career-ending offense, pray remind me why Barney Frank is still in office?) But no matter. There are plenty of folks just glad he's leaving the public stage, no matter how he makes his exit.

Some of the Wall Street types high-fiving Monday and Tuesday are hardly clean as the driven snow themselves. Some of the folks Spitzer nailed for whooping up securities they knew weren't as good as advertised deserved what they got. Spitzer did go after real cases of conflict of interest and real accounting irregularities, and got some righteous convictions. But he went after guilty and innocent alike. And paid not the slightest attention to basic rules of decency. His targets were mere props for the overweening ambition of Eliot Spitzer, just as his poor wife was a prop for that 30-second, dead-man-talking mea culpa Monday in his Manhattan office (culpa for what the sly devil didn't say).

While we're waiting for this one to end, more likely with a whimper than with a bang, I plead to make one correction to the public discussion of the matter. All day Tuesday I heard commentators, as well as current and former public eminences such as former New York Mayor Ed "How'm I doing?" Koch, pronouncing that the sorry business is "tragic." No. It isn't. It's pathetic. Big difference. Tragedy requires elements of nobility and dignity undone. You can search the whole of Eliot Spitzer's public career without running up on either dignity or nobility (other than the feigned kind Eliot used to fool his marks over the years -- 69 percent of whom voted for him for governor of New York in 2006).

In his apology speech Monday afternoon Spitzer crooned that politics was "not about individuals." Good thing, if the individuals are anything like Spitzer.

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About the Author

Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.