Welcome Back, Spitzer

Nature abhors a vacuum, and Eliot Spitzer didn’t have much to do after his foray into TV punditry crashed and burned, a few times. It was a match made in…New York.  The disgraced former governor, marauding attorney general, overly ambitious assistant district attorney, horn-dog hypocrite and liar, now wants to do the books for New York City.

Well, not really do the books, as he wants to use the oversight authority of the Comptroller’s office to once again become the sheriff of something. He got a lot of mileage out of playing sheriff, as the public loves the pretense of someone in public officer “fixing” the people they hate. Few were able to create targets of derision better than Spitzer, enough so that when he used bazookas to go after flies, even innocent flies, the only sound from the groundlings was applause.

At Cato,  Walter Olson reminds us of who this Spitzer guy was before his fall from grace. But hubris never takes a day off, so Spitzer made his pitch :

On “CBS This Morning,” Spitzer said, “I sinned, I owned up to it, I looked them in the eye, I resigned, I held myself accountable. I think that was the only right thing to do. There’s a record there that I hope they will look to and say, ‘yes, the comptroller’s position is one that fits his skill set and we hope that we can bring him back for public service.’”

Some might think the generous thing to do, particularly from someone inclined toward redemption as befits a criminal defense lawyer, would be to accept his concession of wrongdoing, the price he paid by giving up the post of governor with his wife (could she be described as cuckolded?) forced to stand next to him as if this wasn’t a humiliation so far beyond anything she could ever imagine happening to her.

And yet, while his announcement has produced no end of hilarity in some circles, it should be taken with brutal seriousness.  George Santayana’s warning comes to mind, though it strikes me as needing a slight adjustment here. It’s not that we’ve forgotten the past of Eliot Spitzer, but maybe we just can’t muster the will to reject him despite the past. There just isn’t anyone else around who has enough name recognition, star stature, to interest us, unless Kim Kardashian jumps into the race.

It’s not that there aren’t other people whose ideas are worthy of our political consideration, but, heck, Americans need to be spoonfed what they think because critical thought makes our head hurt and takes us away from important bonding time at fast food restaurants and in front of computer gaming consoles.

“Spitzer? Yeah, I remember that name. He was, like, somebody once, right?  Pass me a beer.”

Even local newspapers aren’t particularly outraged. In fact, because of what the  New York Post calls a “talent drought,” they are preparing to do what they never do: forgive.   Newsday says his candidacy is “worth a look,” a curious position given its  rush to convict the amorphous unindicted and forgive the admitted criminal. The  Daily News takes a more level headed approach, relating the hard facts of his failures as governor to the job of comptroller to remind people that Spitzer would be a disaster even if he wasn’t pond scum otherwise.

Since SJ isn’t political, you might wonder why I’ve written a post about Spitzer, who wouldn’t be eligible to vote no less run had he been prosecuted like a regular guy for what he did.  Because Eliot Spitzer would be the first guy, aside from Rudy Giuliani and Joe McCarthy, to string you up for a millisecond of adoration.

Is it unduly hopeful to believe that the age of the popular appeal of the avenging angel is over?  Is it wrong to hope that the public bloodlust for “getting” someone, anyone, so that we can pretend we’ve rid society of all the people who make our lives unpleasant and can go back to a time when we can only take for ourselves?

Eliot Spitzer reflected the worst of us. Then he was gone, destroyed by his own hand as the overly righteous should be.  And now he’s back?  Will we reject him and all he represents because we’ve had enough of the avenging angels?  Or are we as still as angry and mindless as we were when he was crowned governor?

Go away, Spitzer. Just go away.



18 comments on “Welcome Back, Spitzer

  1. tom felding

    It is unfair to suggest that a “regular guy” would have been prosecuted. Indoor prostitution was not illegal in Rhode Island at the time. True – he was open to federal prosecution since he crossed state lines but Feds usually do not prosecute clients of prostitution. There was a money laundering conviction of the person who was organizing the agency. There are many ethical issues with the whole Spitzer business some of which you raise. But that he got away cheaper than others in identical circumstances is not one of them. None of the other clients were convicted either.

  2. SHG

    It was just the pros, Tom. It was the smurfing, a far more serious and prosecuted crime.

  3. R.P.

    Can’t his wife run for something? I love the way she refused to gaze adoringly at him during his resignation speech, and to play the ‘good wife.’ She looked the way she felt; she refused to be phony – she was the only true and authentic thing in the whole sorted episode. Better yet was Mark Sanford’s wife, who refused to go to the resignation speech at all, and left him promptly thereafter. No handler’s advice for her. These guys’ (e.g., Spitzer, Sanford, Weiner) utter betrayal of their families’ love while focused on worldly advancement is almost biblical in nature. Spitzer and Weiner in particular seem to fit the definition of white-collar sociopaths.

    You know, I may be a poorly-paid solo, struggling to put food on the table for my family; but I’m not out there having affairs, going to prostitutes, doing creepy things on the Internet (aside from commenting on this blog, hahaha), snorting drugs, getting ‘tats,’ etc. etc. I work hard and my wife knows where I am during the day. There’s a lot of people like me. However,there is a disturbing trend on the part of people to say that almost anything is acceptable in one’s private life so long as one does the right ‘public’ acts (doing the right charitable work, or having the correct political beliefs, etc.) Many in the New York area have excused Spitzer’s conduct because he has the right (to them) left-leaning political beliefs; and so what if he had an “affair”? But these people have it exactly backwards. What you do in your private life, how you treat your family, is everything, or mostly everything.

  4. John Jenkins

    Scott: what does “smurfing” mean in thia context? The term does not come up in my transactional practice.

  5. SHG

    Smurfing is criminal law slang for structuring, breaking up sums of cash so that they fall below the unusual currency transaction reporting requirements.

  6. tom felding

    It was the possible smurfing that triggered the investigation in the first place. But not enough for conviction though. He was withdrawing in thousands in cash but less than the reporting threshold because that is what he needed to pay the escort service – not necessarily to evade the reporting and intent is an element. Not saying that a regular Joe would not have been far more vulnerable to related convictions than Spitzer – but that is not quite the same is it? I bet if a federal agent asks about somebody’s withdrawal for paying prostitutes – an Inculpatory No would be the most natural response. Or dangle a threat of Mann Act and coax a guilty plea on the structuring. Just saying that – not charging Spitzer was not unfair on its face.

  7. Turk

    I’m just sorry he’s not running for mayor against Weiner. It would make me tune in to late night TV again.

  8. tom felding

    My information was from a lengthy article at the time which professed to rebut two contradictory theories which sprouted (one claiming Spitzer was unfairly targeted due to his prosecution of Wall Street and the other claiming he got an unfair pass). Your take may well be the right one. Not many bothered to carefully scrutinize the less salacious side then.

  9. SHG

    Few people have the desire to work too hard to be more empathetic and understanding when it comes to Spitzer’s wrongdoing. I admit that I am one of them. While I try not to unfairly smear him, I won’t exert much effort to excuse or forgive him either.

  10. citizenjeff

    Why are you ducking Tom’s good point that Spitzer didn’t need to structure payments, because the cost of each encounter was under $10K, and johns aren’t required to pay for multiple sessions in advance?

  11. SHG

    First, my recollection of the details of Spitzer’s smurfing was that he made multiple withdrawals sequentially, which didn’t align with his visits to the prostitute. Even though each “encounter” may have cost him less than $10k, he withdrew monies for multiple encounters in a series of withdrawals at a time so they didn’t correlate with specific visits, which undermines the theory that it wasn’t smurfing, but just withdrawal of the amount he needed for a particular visit to the prostitute.

    Second, ducking? Bite me. I’m not obliged to respond to anyone’s point, yours included, and certainly not to meet your satisfaction. I do so out of choice, not obligation.

  12. tom felding

    Having looked into this a bit more, I think Scott has the better argument. At least, to the extent that there was probable cause to charge Spitzer. Whether Michael Garcia was honest in concluding that there was insufficient evidence to win at trial, is something we may disagree.
    Anyway, this comment thread has gone off rails and deals with a small part of the thoughtful post above. I’m sorry, I brought it up.

  13. citizenjeff

    Of course you’re not obliged to respond, Scott. Sorry if it seemed I believe otherwise.

    I thought the crime of structuring is more about payments than withdrawals. If it can’t be shown there was a need to make a payment over $10K, can’t someone withdraw money just because they feel like it? It seems like the real story was why the feds would make such an accusation against Spitzer.

  14. SHG

    Structuring is about currency transaction, whether in or out. Makes no difference. The crime is acting to avoid the filing of an unusual currency transaction report.

    And so you know, at $10k or up, it required, but it is also required of unusual transactions in cash below $10k.

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