Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Random Thoughts on Spitzer's Disgrace

It was just last week that I wrote an article about how the Democrats have an uncanny ability to blow winnable presidential elections. It has often been written that New York Governor Elliot Spitzer had presidential aspirations. Maybe he was just in a hurry to take his turn destroying his chances at moving into the White House.

Since the news broke yesterday that Spitzer apparently patronized a prostitute in Washington, D.C., my in box has been buzzing with comments (as well as some gloating from Republican friends). I find the whole story so amazing on so many levels, I decided to post my nearly stream-of-consciousness responses to the news here.

- The first I heard that there was a news story breaking was overhearing someone say, "Did you hear about Spitzer?" As I scrambled to look on the New York Times website to see what the story was, my initial reaction was, "Wow. Someone shot Spitzer." That gut response demonstrates two assumptions I obviously had internalized (even if I didn't realize it): First, a sex scandal for the self-described law-and-order governor seemed unlikely to me. Second, he's made so many enemies with his hubris during his first year in office, it didn't seem unusual to me that it would move someone to violence.

- My next thought was, "Well, we now know that Spitzer is a true Democrat, because if he was a Republican, the hooker would have been a guy."

- It then hit me that the story was broken by The New York Times. Which means, my Republican friends, that the Times is going to break a salacious politicians-and-sex story, regardless of the party registration of the offender. All the complainers who bitched about the paper's February 21 front-page story on John McCain's relationship with a female lobbyist can forward their apology letters to:

The New York Times
620 Eighth Avenue
New York, NY 10018

(Oh, and those of you who claim that CNN is liberal, keep in mind that not only did they plaster the news all over the place as its lead story, but they kept saying it was news that "rocked the nation." Considering that CNN's sweet spot is stories about celebutantes and crimes involving pretty women, the fact that a governor saw a prostitute was probably enough to send waves of joy through the network's brass. Since when does practicing tabloid journalism make you a liberal? No need to forward apology letters to CNN, though. As purveyors of garbage non-news, they don't deserve it.)

- Once the story had settled in, I got angry. When Bill Clinton was assailed by sanctimonious Republicans over the possibility that he was unfaithful to his wife with an intern, I defended him 100 percent. I felt, first and foremost, that outside of his family, it was none of anyone's business who he had sex with. I also felt strongly that if it was not for all of the years of bogus, politically motivated investigations into every aspect of his past -- investigations, incidentally, that added up to absolutely nothing -- he never would have been in the position in the first place where he was being asked by lawyers if he engaged in sexual activity with Monica Lewinsky.

Having said all of that, Spitzer is a disgrace who should resign.

There is absolutely no correlation between Spitzer's situation and what Clinton did. Because no matter how you feel about whether prostitution should be illegal or not, it remains on the books as an offense. A governor, certainly one that spent the previous eight years of his life as a crusading attorney general, has to respect the law. Spitzer did not. In fact, he acted as if he was above the law, like the laws of the country didn't apply to him. For the chief executive of a state to behave that way is unforgivable.

Even more than breaking the law, Spitzer put himself in a situation where he was endangering the best interests of his constituents. By having sex with a prostitute? No, by committing a felony that a group of people knew about and, presumably, could hold over his head (and by extension, the heads of the people of New York). What if the person who ran the escort service came to Spitzer and "asked" for a favor, implying strongly that failure to comply with the request would result in the governor's name being leaked to the New York Post as a customer. What would Spitzer have done? It doesn't matter, really. The more important point is that by engaging in this behavior, he made himself vulnerable to the demands of felons. And that is even more unacceptable than Spitzer committing the felony himself, since it would put into play that a gubernatorial decision would be made to save his own hide, not because it benefited the citizens that entrusted him with his job.

I have zero sympathy for Spitzer, and he should resign immediately.

- And this led me back to the Democrats' seeming compulsion to self-sabotage. Which only compounds my anger at Spitzer and makes me sad, too. The ground hasn't been this fertile for Democrats since Watergate ravaged the country's psyche in the mid-1970s. There are signs around the country that a big portion of the electorate has had it with Republican rule and wants a change. It began with the Democrats winning both houses of Congress in November 2006, and despite the party's complete inability to stand up to Bush since, the trend seems to continue unabated. In fact, just days ago, on March 8, Democrat Bill Foster won a special election to fill the vacant seat in Illinois's 14th Congressional District. Big deal, you might think. What's so newsworthy about a Democrat winning a race in strongly blue Illinois? Well, a lot, considering that the seat was formerly held by Dennis Hastert, the speaker of the house when the GOP last controlled Congress, and the district has more registered Republicans than Democrats. When you throw in that John McCain endorsed Foster's opponent, the comfortable victory (53 percent to 47 percent) is an eye-opener.

With the country open to the Democrats, it's vital for the party to put its best foot forward. Spitzer, instead, put a different part of his body somewhere else.

My desire for the Democrats to show themselves in the best light and win in November is not just merely a case of, "I'm a Democrat, I want my team to win" rah-rah bull crap. Too much is at stake this time. I fervently believe that Bush and his administration have fundamentally damaged the country, both in what it stands for and how it is viewed abroad, worse than any president in my lifetime, including Nixon. Obviously, the Iraq war and all of the lies, miscalculations, failures to plan, and just plain wrong decisions has led the way, but there is so much more.

Bush on Saturday vetoed a bill outlawing interrogation techniques like waterboarding, telling the world that the United States condones torture. (McCain pointed out on "60 Minutes" on Sunday that the U.S. prosecuted Japanese officers as war criminals after World War II for waterboarding Americans.) Bush has illegally extended the power of the executive branch, threatening the very nature of our checks-and-balances-based democracy. He has also weakened the ability of government to protect its own people, intentionally appointing political cronies to run government agencies in an effort to ensure that they don't carry out their jobs. This kind of anti-government agenda has had wide-reaching effects, ranging from the FEMA debacle after Hurricane Katrina to the acting head of the Consumer Products Safety Commission actively lobbying Congress to not give her agency more resources. And by appointing two young, right-wing justices to the U.S. Supreme Court, Bush has helped ensure that the damages he inflicted on the country will far outlast his ruinous eight years in office.

That is why it is not just about my guys winning. I think that this presidential election is a last-ditch effort for the citizens of the U.S. to stand up and take the country back from those that would do it harm (and, in this instance, I'm not talking about al-Qaeda, although I absolutely believe we can fight the terrorists better with Obama in office than with Bush, who is the poster child for extremist recruitment, or McCain, who essentially wants to continue Bush's policies).

You can't help thinking that McCain is sitting somewhere comfortable with his top strategists and smiling ear to ear. He has Hillary Clinton and her tunnel vision weakening Obama for November. And now he has the Democratic governor of New York paying big money for prostitutes. How do you think that will play in swing states like Iowa and Missouri?

So if Spitzer's commission of a felony, breach of the trust of the people of New York, or placement of himself in a situation where his decisions could be compromised by criminals are not reasons enough to resign, he has to do it for the party. He has to disappear and fade away as quickly as possible.

It's not just about Spitzer. It's about the Democratic party and the future of this country. And it's not like the Democrats need help blowing things in November.