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Let’s talk about sin and Eliot Spitzer

March 11, 2008

During EfM last night, our mentor brought up the Eliot Spitzer news for a Theological Reflection activity.

For those of you who live under a rock (which really describes no one who reads my blog, but I don’t want to ASSume…), Eliot Spitzer is the Governor of NY state, and is very well know for his combative stance against corruption and ethics violations, especially during his stint as NY Attorney General.  He has been nationally touted – heralded as a champion of these causes.  He was known as a man standing upon his righteous principals, and was hoisted upon a pedestal.

But how quickly those upon the pedestal are toppled.  It seems that Governor Spitzer was a client of a very high profile prostitution ring, with high profile clients and call girls in cities around the globe (NY, DC, London, Paris). Top call girls could be paid as much as $5500 per hour.  Apparently, Spitzer was captured on a wire tap which had been set up as part of an ongoing investigation.  He spent 4 or so hours with a call girl, at $1000/hour, and apparently tipped her an additional $300.  He didn’t pay for her train ride to their rendez vous.

Yesterday, he made a brief public appearance to apologize to his wife and community for his inappropriate behavior, and made no further comment.  NY State Republicans are pressing him to resign by Thursday or face impeachment.  Spitzer’s illustrious, crime fighting gubenatorial career appears to be at a resounding, undignified, and utterly disappointing end.

I am greatly saddened by this.  I admire Spitzer.  Past accomplishments included the break up of a large prostitution ring, the likes of which he was caught patronizing.

The question that came immediately to my mind, was, Why?

Why?

Boredom? Power? Excitement? Risk? Availability? Invincibility?

And then, I thought of myself, and  my own capacity to quietly and PRIVATELY make my own errors in judgement, as small or large as they may be.

How we love to raise up a hero and cheer when we discover, that just as we’d likely suspected all along, they are only human afterall, subject to the same faults, flaws and temptations that we face everyday.

Our EfM mentor brought up David, and the Song of Manasseh.  David, who had Bathsheba’s husband KILLED because his own power was unchecked, his autocracy all empowering.  David, strong, handsome, intelligent, beloved, and heralded David – God’s own chosen, who threw himself so far astray.  And who was forgiven by God (after paying a severe penance).

With a wiretap, Spitzer’s righteousness turned instantly to self-righteousness.  His words, empty husks.

I’m not saying he shouldn’t pay a penalty. I’m not saying there should be no repercussion. But it certainly does remind me of my own falliabilty, my own capacity to make a mess of things, and pray for another chance.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. March 11, 2008 4:12 pm

    I have little sympathy with the self-righteous folks who swoon over an incident like this with “look at him!” mock horror and glee. The act as if they could not possibly ever do anything reprehensible, while at the same time they savor every sordid detail. (The Repulicans Governors Ass’n, or whoever it was who first demanded his resignation comet to mind, among others).

    On the other hand…. It’s kind of like the Paul Moore story. At what point does one have to be willing to admit that one’s hero is not simply flawed (as we all are) but rather responsible for damaging all sorts of people in both their private and public lives. (A better question, I think, than the one I posed in an earlier “Carrie” moment : What makes us desire to see some as heroes, no matter what their flaws, and others as flawed, no matter what heroic deeds they have done?)

    Just take a look at the photos and video of Silda Spitzer. (One video at <a href=”http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/10/nyregion/10cnd-spitzer.html?em&ex=1205380800&en=252bf166fa539bc3&ei=5087%0A”.New York Times Look at her closely — her eyes, her gaze, her body language. The person who did that to her should feel just as much pain, not out of self-pity or simply guilt, but feel HER pain.

    Then what about all of us citizens of New York, who not only voted for him because we thought he was a good candidate but because we desperately wanted to turn the tide of years of inaction and cronyism in Albany. What about his efforts as a prosecutor to go after big corporations and the insurance industry? Those efforts may not all be in vain — no doubt others will try to carry forward his causes — but his conduct and its consequences will damage his public causes, as well.

    It’s not a matter of empathy or understanding for his flaws, as I see it. I still “like” Bill Clinton (whatever that means). I don’t hate him for what he did. But I was and am angry at people like him and Spitzer, not because they were not perfect, but because they acted incredibly stupidly and seemingly with self-destructive impulses in ways that have caused considerable damage to people way beyond their families. With Clinton, there was no way Gore could escape the shadow of the whole Monica affair and that had as much to do with the loss of the election (and all its consequences) as anything else. Maybe New York State will fare better if its fine lt. governor takes the top office. Nevertheless, I’m not content to just sit back and say, oh well, it happens to the best of them, all that pressure, etc. Too many people are sorely hurting right now. While I don’t need or want to see Spitzer drawn and quartered or even pilloried for his misdeeds, I would like to grieve deeply, pray for healing for his wounded family, and sorrow for the citizens he has betrayed as well.

    BTW, if you haven’t read it already, the dear Admiral has broken his long silence to write eloquently on the Spitzer story in The last good man.

  2. episcopalifem permalink*
    March 11, 2008 4:38 pm

    While I don’t need or want to see Spitzer drawn and quartered or even pilloried for his misdeeds, I would like to grieve deeply, pray for healing for his wounded family, and sorrow for the citizens he has betrayed as well.

    Amen.

    I think this is what I was struggling to say, but which you said far more eloquently.

    I did see the pictures of his wife – I did see the lines in her face and the pain in her eyes.

    And I do agree with you that this act of stupidity has undone some great things he has done.

  3. March 11, 2008 7:56 pm

    Personally, I’m in no position to throw stones. I just find it sad.

  4. March 11, 2008 8:37 pm

    I’m gonna keep my comment short-ish. My reactions were:

    1.) Eliot, why not just have an affair? It’s not illegal, and as a former attorney general who prosecuted prostitution rings, you should have been A LOT MORE CAREFUL.

    2.) He’s got three daughters. Presumably he occasionally changed their diapers and whatnot. How could you have daughters and not feel protective toward womankind? How do men keep these things separate in their psyches? I don’t get it.

    3.) Why the HELL is the Department of Justice wiretapping Eliot Sptizer? I don’t trust the Bush DOJ. Here’s a governor of a Democratic stronghold, who would have been a superdelegate for Hillary Clinton. Additionally, the mayor of NYC just gave a huge donation to Joe Bruno, the top Repug on the NYS Assembly AND Eliot Spitzer’s sworn enemy.

    I smell entrapment.

    But still, Spitzer doesn’t have the horse-sense of your average ambulance-chaser, does he.

    4.) Meanwhile, we have a president and a vice president who are guilty of WAR CRIMES. But sex scandals are so much more fun, aren’t they.

    Okay, so it was a long-ish comment after all.

  5. March 11, 2008 8:50 pm

    Whoops. Joe Bruno is a state senator, not an assemblyman. Carry on.

  6. March 11, 2008 11:59 pm

    Most people grow out of this ability to compartmentalize their lives – a few stay in this adolescent phase forever. If you ever worked with the Youth Group at church – this is classic.

  7. March 12, 2008 12:44 am

    Yeah, what PJ said, all of it. Yeesh.

  8. March 12, 2008 9:13 am

    I third PJ’s remarks…

  9. March 12, 2008 1:48 pm

    I don’t understand how we can have a culture which worships sex, sells it at every turn and still condemns people who seek relief from what the culture has encouraged. Assuming the gal was healthy, at least there was no emotional involvement. I don’t like the idea that he couldn’t find adequate relief with his wife and spent soooo much money but men seem to be ruled by their penises, especially men with power. It would be fun to expose every married male in government who has had sex with a prostitute.

    And I wonder if the gal might have been a single mother trying to support a family which had never had or was abandoned by a father. There are lots of aspect to sex workers’ lives besides the families of the men. Where there is a perceived need, someone will fill it or, today, create it.

    And he got caught because of a possible money laundering scheme. Surprise. Was not the money that needed laundering.

    (Hiding behind Nomex.)

  10. March 12, 2008 3:50 pm

    Here’s an editorial on the use of the wife:

    http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/columnists/chi-kass-12mar12,0,6562893.column

    Seems to me that many of you are missing the point of what happened here. It’s not a matter of marital infidelity or even a romp with a prostitute. This was an operation linked with criminals and involving dummy corporations, etc. If you are regularly giving large amounts of cash to criminals and claim to be the great criminal prosecutor, you have betrayed every principle you claim to be for, every fight you’ve fought.

    Also, I think it’s terribly insulting to Spitzer’s wife to suggest that he could or should have fulfilled his desire for extra-marital sex some other way — say a mistress or occasional pick up — or even that what was involved had anything to do with sexual needs or desires. Most experts have agreed that such conduct is generally about risk and danger (and who knows what else might have been involved in the actual sex — depending on whether you believe the testimony of the prostitute about his reputation for wanting “dangerous” things). While we cannot (and should not ) know what his marital sex life was like, it seems pretty clear that this way of acting out suggests something far more than simple sexual desire — at the very least extreme narcissism, severe disconnect from reality, and possibly a desire to hurt others. That’s hardly the same thing as being tempted by an attractive, friendly face or body.

    Sex is one thing. Domination, power, danger, reckless disregard of one’s public as well as private responsibilities are issues that should raise more than an eyebrow or a wink, or even visions of political conspiracies Is sexual sin always o.k. — i.e. always just a private matter between consenting adults? Don’t we all want and need to know if and why a governor or high-ranking official is slushing large amounts of cash around, no matter which party he or she represents?

    I’m not a big fan of moral outrage, but it seems to me that this situation calls for at least the recognition that this is not just any old sex scandal involving a mistress or some sweet young hooker with a heart of gold. The allegations here involve big money and big crime. That is why it strikes me as a huge tragedy, not just another partisan smear at someone’s moral imperfection.

  11. March 12, 2008 9:39 pm

    klady, very good point. Thank you.

  12. March 13, 2008 12:31 pm

    Klady – Excellent point, and why I feel so torn.

    I admire the good work he has already done, and I despair for the damage this piece of arrogance and stupidity does to all that good work.

    Such a shame.

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