Our bailiwick here at J Street is to bring you news, ideas, opinions and thoughts from the capital, but I went to dinner with a bunch of beltway denizens last night and all anyone could talk about was Spitzer, so why not share some thoughts, right?
First, I want to stipulate that what Spitzer apparently did is gross and, most of all, cruel to his wife and family. I think he probably also had no choice but to resign. But one of my first thoughts upon hearing about the breaking scandal was “at least he didn’t start a war based on lies.” This dovetails with a post by Brian Beutler, where he notes that:
And as a rule, I think that’s deeply unfortunate. Americans, to some great extent, have internalized this cartoonish idea that politicians ought to be policy-making and policy-enforcing robots, but they almost never seem to bring the hammer down unless a politician errs in some extremely frivolous way. Some senators and congressmen, it’s worth pointing out, take legislative action to settle personal vendettas as a matter of routine. Some take bribes, both real and de facto. Others see prostitutes. If I had to pick, I know which “oops” I’d rather catch my elected official in–the only one, it turns out, that’s likely to put an entire career in public service at risk.
The point is that sex sells and sex scandals have an undeniable salacious appeal that I think often skews our moral reaction to any sort of political sex scandal. What’s more we tend to associate the depth of shamefulness of the revelation with its venality. But I think this is mistaken. Back in 2004, after promising Republican Illinois senate candidate (and Obama opponent) Jack Ryan was undone by allegations in his divorce papers that he’d pressured his wife into having sex in public in a sex club, I wrote a piece making this point. There are all kinds of revelations about a political figure’s private life that would be embarrassing or shame-inducing, and would therefore receive far more coverage than a wide variety of routine forms of corruption and ugly views that are considered de rigeur.