Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The scarlet "H"

Well, you know what kind of week it's been when the names I hear most on the news after New York Democratic Governor Elliott Spitzer are Larry Craig, Bill Clinton and Jim McGreevey.

It also is a great opportunity to answer critics on the right who claim that somehow the media judges a Larry Craig or a Tom Foley more harshly when they are involved in sexual pecadillos than they judge a Bill Clinton or a Ted Kennedy.

The issue is not about sex. It's about hypocrisy.

Bill Clinton left office with a 60% plus approval rating, and that was after the impeachment trial. Voters in Massachusetts have returned Ted Kennedy to the Senate seven times since Chappaquiddick. Why is that?

The answer is quite simple. Whatever their faults (and I'm not defending them) neither Bill Clinton nor Ted Kennedy has told anyone how to live their personal life. They don't go out and preach what they don't practice.

Elliott Spitzer, in contrast, has practically no support in this case, and the reason is because he made his career by being tough on criminals (including prostitution rings) and being 'Mr. Clean' himself. Well, if you claim to be Mr. Clean then you better be exactly that.

Which leads to why Republicans like Larry Craig have gotten such a harsh rebuke from the public as well as from the media. They ran on 'family values' platforms, preaching (among other things) about the sanctity of marriage. And it probably earns them some votes. But when voters find that those votes were earned under false pretenses they feel far more betrayed than they would by say, yet another sex scandal involving Bill Clinton. There is a reason why the media doesn't report on any more Clinton sex scandals. It's because pretty much everybody knows by now that Bill has a zipper problem, and reporting details of another dalliance would be about as interesting to most people as it will be if the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the Pittsburgh Pirates swap a couple of minor league prospects (yawwwn.) When a sinner is caught sinning, it's not exactly earth-shattering news. But when they bust the preacher who has been out railing against it, then it is.

For that matter, speaking of preachers, this pattern holds beyond politics. There is a reason why Hugh Grant is still making movies but Jimmy Swaggart and Ted Haggard have mostly lost their careers after all three of them were caught consorting with prostitutes. That reason is because Hugh Grant never got out there and judged others for their personal failings. So both society at large and those who work with him are much more willing to forgive Hugh Grant and let him get on with things than they are willing to let those who engaged in a 'hang 'em high' brand of moralisitic judgement escape justice according to the same gallows that they have erected themselves.

But it isn't about the media not reporting scandals involving Democrats. Republicans are in fact more vulnerable to the fallout from sexual scandal precisely because they have cast themselves as the guardians of societies standards, of morality and decency. When preachy, judgemental Democrats like Spitzer or Gary Condit (who once called on Bill Clinton to step aside during the Lewinsky scandal) get caught with their pants down (in both senses of the word) then they face the same wrath from the public as Larry Craig and Mark Foley did.

Which leads us right back to what the Bible says about hypocrisy: If you live in a glass house then don't throw stones.

11 comments:

Karen said...

The real tragedy is the women who continue to 'stand by their man'.

wunelle said...

You did a much better job than me hitting at the same point.

I just can't care about a guy's sexual behavior (so long as it's consensual), but when he destroyed people for the same foibles then he has to go.

Liza said...

Wow. Unbelievable.

There is no excuse for what Eliot Spitzer has done to his wife and his family and to the voters who took him at his word.

My question is, why is this guy beyond redemption?

Did he invade a sovereign nation on false pretenses and cause over one million deaths? Did he cause four million Iraqis to become refugees or internally displaced?
Does he sanction torture?

How bad is this guy, really? Have we lost all perspective or are we just going to burn people at the stake whenever we can because it is impossible for us to punish those who truly deserve it?

Eliot Spitzer's career has not exactly been about nothing. He has done a great deal of good, and he probably still could except for the harsh and unforgiving political landscape.

Yes, let George and Dick go free. Impeachment proceedings are a pain in the ass. Let them go forth and make a million dollars per speech on the lecture circuit. But Eliot, on the other hand, must be on the receiving end of our self righteous wrath. We are not interested in his apologies or his redemption. We must have his head on a platter because he is, God help us, a hypocrite.

Think about it.

Eli Blake said...

Liza:

The problem I have with your analysis is that Spitzer sent people to prison for, among other things, being involved in prostitution rings. So it's not just that he's a hypocrite, it's that through his hypocrisy other people have been harmed rightly or wrongly in order to advance his career. So it is only appropriate that he should now receive the same treatment and the same amount of mercy as he accorded others.

Your point in regard to Bush is exactly right (though I would oppose impeachment for the strategic reason that we have to win the election this year and I don't think that would help us get there). So maybe if we look at the concept of 'reap what ye sew' then Spitzer should go to prison and Bush should be waterboarded.

wunelle said...

I think (if I may be allowed a further comment) that nobody's bringing Eliot Spitzer down but Eliot Spitzer. Eli's point that it's only fair that he face the fire he helped to build is entirely germane. I don't think the use of a prostitute amounts to very much; but Spitzer himself made a career out of insisting otherwise.

For my part, I will always feel a vacuum of justice if W and Cheney are not impeached and forcibly removed from office. I understand why few people are pumping for this, and practically I can get on board with the desire to just move on. But their wrongdoing is so massive as to demand, in my mind, something more than the expiration of their terms of office.

wunelle said...

P.S. Liza has spectacular movie tastes! ;-)

Liza said...

Eli,
First, I appreciate your point. You would have to look long and hard to find someone who finds every aspect of prostitution more abhorrent than I do.

However, I am certain that you are aware that Eliot Spitzer's legal career was far more significant than prosecuting a few prostitution traffickers. As Attorney General of NY, Eliot Spitzer was definitely one of the good guys. From Wikipedia:

"As Attorney General, Spitzer stepped up the profile of the office. Traditionally, state attorneys general have pursued consumer rights cases, concentrating on local fraud while deferring national issues to the federal government. Breaking with this traditional deference, Spitzer took up civil actions and criminal prosecutions relating to corporate white-collar crime, securities fraud, Internet fraud, and environmental protection."

I know you are aware of this, Eli, but for some reason, everyone seems to have recently forgotten the magnitude of Eliot Spitzer's contributions.

My point is not that Eliot Spitzer is not guilty of wrongdoing or hypocrisy. Rather, my point is that his wrongdoing must be evaluated within a meaningful perspective and it must be held up against the good that he has done.

I choose to believe that a man like Eliot Spitzer is not beyond redemption and that he has done enough good in his lifetime to give him the benefit of a second chance or at least a fair judgment.

My point about Bush and Cheney is a major issue that goes unanswered, not only by you but by everyone. The fact that Bush and Cheney have not been held accountable just simply raises the bar for crime in the Executive Office. We have come to the conclusion that we cannot hold them accountable, therefore we will just wait them out. What does this say about us?

Yet, at the same time, we recognize the truly horrible nature of what Eliot Spitzer has done, and he must be held accountable, even though he is a better candidate for redemption than most politicians.

Things are connected, Eli. Nothing is an isolated event. I just have a feeling that we will have to agree to disagree.

Liza said...

Wunelle,
Thanks. I'm a "noir head" and kind of lost in the 40's.

Zach said...

I think the point that people are missing is that, regardless of all the other good he did in his career, Eliot Spitzer made HISTORY attacking prostitution. He made New York the first state where sex crimes committed overseas could be prosecuted on U.S. soil. He, for the first time in New York, turned the finger and pointed it at the Johns, rather than the prostitutes.

Regardless of whether or not he is beyond redemption, perhaps it is time for him to experience first hand whether or not the laws he pushed for have been effective. Thanks to his laws, his utilizing a prostitute is taken seriously. Thanks to his laws, he can be prosecuted, even though the crimes took place outside New York. Best of luck to him.

And the reality of it is that the laws that he passed ruined other people's lives. Regardless of whether or not they deserved to have their lives ruined, he contributed to ruining them. Now that it's been determined that he is as guilty as they are, he deserves to have his life ruined.

Also, the difference between this and whatever you think about Bush and Cheney is this:

Bush and Cheney have not made careers out of peace activism. You may not agree with them, you may think they're terrible people, but their actions have not been hypocritcal.

Liza said...

zach,
Bush and Cheney are liars. That is why more than a million people are dead.

Eliot Spitzer's terrible crime is like a parking ticket compared to what they have done.

And you're okay with this, as long as they didn't misrepresent themselves?

EELANA F said...

Eliot spizter went after major corporations and banks, making it harder for credit card companies to unfairly take advantage of consumers. He was a thorn in the side of some very important people and therefore he was "exposed"