Eliot Spitzer has fallen to earth from the clouds of Mt. Olympus – a mere mortal. Nothing novel about that! Politicians have been getting into trouble since the days of the ancient Greek Alciabides, who switched alliances and consorts with regularity.
People are human - whether politicians or police, executives or exterminators, judges or journalists, ministers or miners, sports stars or scrubs, celebrities or cellists. conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat, rich or poor, male or female. Scandals are non-partisan and cross all racial, ethnic, gender, geographic and religious boundaries.
Politicians and political partisans who exult in the fall of an opponent should restraint themselves because the fickle finger of fate may turn on them next.
Indeed, a wonderful story of how quickly Congress can act in a truly bipartisan basis occurred in 1988 during the confirmation hearings on Judge Robert Bork’s failed appointment to the Supreme Court. Opponents of the Bork nomination sought the video rental records of Judge Bork and his wife (an ex-nun), undoubtedly looking for salacious rentals. A compliant store clerk gave them the records.
What they found were rentals such as Ruthless People and The Sound of Music.
What they unleashed was the wrath of Congress, many of whose members presumably did not want voters to discover their renting and viewing habits. Hence, Congress quickly enacted the Video Privacy Protection Act of 1988, which prohibits the disclosure of such records without a warrant.
Robert Caro in his LBJ Trilogy relates the misogynist attitude of many Senators for women in the 1950’s and 1960’s, including hidden compartments in the Senate Office Building.
Mores have change in recent decades. “Big Daddy” Jesse Unruh was the powerful speaker of the California Assembly from 1961 to 1969. His response to complaints about the power of lobbyists was this famous or infamous quote, adhered to by generations of legislators: “If you can’t take their money, drink their liquor, fuck their women, and then come in here the next day and vote against them, you don’t belong here.”
The four times elected Governor of Louisiana, and oft indicted, Governor Edwin Edwards once joked with reporters that ”The only way I can lose this election is if I’m caught in bed with either a dead girl or live boy.” Edwards was sentenced to ten years in prison.
Nanny problems have tripped up the actors Jude Law and Ethan Hawke, but Charlie Sheen, Hugh Grant, and Eddie Murphy preferred prostitutes, as did Dick Morris, Clinton’s political guru.
Sexual harassment claims have destroyed politicians (Senators Brock Adams and Robert Packwood) and law school deans (at Boalt and William Mitchell).
Power is an aphrodisiac, as are fame and wealth. Those who possess them also possess easier accessibility to random sex. Power also corrupts. Politicians like Spitzer suffered from hubris pride, overweening pride to a fault. Or, as was often the case in Greek tragedies: “First the Gods rise you up, and then they slam you down.”
Power and fame are also seductive and can lead to hubris.
Spitzer is far from the first powerful individual to believe a different standard applies to him than the rest of us. Chairman Mao is a prime example. He believed the key to maintaining his health was young girls. Lavrenty Beria, the ruthless Russian KGB leader, was a pedophile.
Rudy Giuliani’s cavalier humiliation of his prior wives, and humiliating treatment of accused white collar criminals, greatly parallels those of Spitzer. Little understanding of the “human touch” exists with these personas.
Spitzer is also of the mindset that only one right answer exists – his, and anyone in the way, including those who lack the same sense of urgency, shall be trampled. This mindset has brought trouble to many an organization in which, as with Spitzer as Attorney General, the leader bulldozes his way through all opposition.
Governor Spitzer is not the first New York Governor to be fallen by sex. Former Governor and Vice President Nelson A. Rockefeller died on January 26, 1979. The 70 year-old geezer had a fatal heart attack while engaging in sexual intercourse (check the death certificate) with his 27 year-old mistress. Rockefeller’s widow, Happy, had him cremated within 18 hours and was happy with the billion dollar estate.
And then we have the case of the brilliant jurist, Chief Judge Sol Wachter of the New York Court of Appeals, who blamed a bipolar condition, for mailing harassing letters to his former girlfriend (both were married) and a condom to her daughter after the relationship broke up. The adulteress was a prominent Republican fund raiser.
Male athletes, college and pro, are increasingly being arrested for sexual assault, often with alcohol involved. Kobe Bryant is, of course, in a class of his own, but some college teams are showing great potential off the field.
Michael Douglas, the actor, once explained his conduct by stating he was addicted to sex.
Political hypocrisy was rampant during the impeachment proceedings against President Clinton, who had committed perjury and obstruction of justice. The underlying issue was one of adultery though. Several of the House leaders of the impeachment drive had similarly strayed from their marital vows, including Speaker Newt Gingrich, designated speaker Bob Livingston, Judicial Committee Chair Henry Hyde (a “youthful indiscretion” at age 41), and Congresswoman Helen Chenoweth.
Voters can be forgiving, such as with Mayors Marion Barry of Washington, D.C., and Buddy Cianci of providence, R.I., whose convictions posed no obstacle to reelection. Senator Ted Kennedy survived a fatality (Chappaquiddick), but Michael Kennedy’s adventures with an under-aged baby sitter scuttled the further ambitions of his brother, Congressman Joe Kennedy. Congressman Mel Reynolds was reelected in Chicago after allegations of sex with a teenage campaign worker. However, he resigned after conviction and was sentenced to five years in jail. Reynolds’ predecessor left office because of similar problems.
Governor Schwarzenegger survived allegations of prior misbehavior in his Hollywood days in his campaign for the Governorship of California. He is currently engaged in a double standard. While loudly proclaiming the need to lower our carbon footprint in the battle against global warming, he is commuting daily to Sacramento from Los Angeles in a private jet, although he claims to be offsetting the carbon emissions by purchasing carbon credits.
Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is currently battling for his political life, after winning reelection after numerous errors in judgment. The current problem involves committing perjury about having an affair with his former chief of staff, who also lied under oath. A related accusation is they the city settled a lawsuit for $8.4 million in an attempt to cover up the affair. Among those demanding his resignation is the state Attorney General Mike Cox, who admitted in 2005 to an extramarital affair.
Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco won reelection on November 7, 2007 with 72% of the vote. Earlier that year he admitted having an affair with the wife of his campaign manager, and then sought treatment for alcohol abuse. He plans to run for Governor in 2010.
Problems come with rampant hypocrisy and double lives. For example, Congressman Bob Bauman, a family values, law and order conservative Republican, lost reelection because of sex with a teenage boy. His excuse was alcohol.
Congressman Michael Huffington and Governor Jim McGreevey of New Jersey did not let their preference for men get in the way of running for office as family men.
Republicans voted Congressman Dan Crane out of office in 1984 for sleeping with a female page. Conversely, Massachusetts Democrats retained Congressman Garry Studds in office at the same time for sleeping with a 17 year old male page.
Senator Larry Craig probably violated no law in the Minneapolis Airport, but his behavior and pleading guilty was stupid. He will probably not be returning to the Senate when his term is up. The “jury” is still out on Senator David Vitter of Louisiana. Unfortunately for Vitter, the law does not recognize a “prostitute-john privilege.” Both Craig and Vitter are conservative Republicans.
Pastor Ted Haggard, “Pastor Ted”, was the popular founder and pastor of the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. His familiarity with gay acts and drug abuse was revealed on November 26, 2007. The result was the end of his ministry, as it was the televangelist Jimmy Swaggart in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1988 for sharing a motel room with a prostitute. Swaggart had revealed in the preceding two years the sexual indiscretions of two fellow ministers, Marvin Gorman and Jim Bakker.
When celebrities mess up, we enjoy the spectacle. Rob Lowe in 1968 in Atlanta, Georgia videotaped a three way with an underage girl during the Democratic National Convention. We’ve come to expect Hollywood pop-tarts to misbehave, but the political scandals involving sex, rather than corruption, alcoholism, or drunk driving are much more titillating. Graft is pedestrian compared to sex.
The current mayor of Los Angeles had a great future in politics, but he has a long, not always private, history of philandering. Both Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, and New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, publicly embarrassed their wives with adultery and messy divorces.
What are the possible explanations?
Genetics and Biology
Character flaws and mental problems
Alcohol and drugs
You might say that Bill Clinton got away with it, but not really. He surrendered his Arkansas license to practice law for five years and reached a $850,000 settlement with Paula Jones. He also lost his license before the Supreme Court. His conduct was an albatross around Vice President Al Gore’s neck in the 2000 Presidential Election and is hurting Hillary Clinton in her current campaign.
A final note is that the public has essentially been spared allegations of spousal abuse by politicians – at least physical abuse. The “Stand by Your Man” by spouses in press conference confessions by Clinton, McGreevey, Spitzer, Hart et al, certainly approach spousal abuse in the sense of emotional abuse.