Thoughts on the Self-Destruction of Eliot Spitzer

Originally written March 11: Another Crash and Burn

The crash and burn of Eliot Spitzer is all over the news today. Because sex is involved, this story will surely be dominating the news cycle for a while.

Robert and I had our picture taken with Spitzer some years ago while he was still Attorney General, when he traveled to our county to speak at the annual Democratic party dinner. He is all angles and energy, and quite charming. We were dressed to the nines, and he told us to to take our name tags off before the picture was taken so that we would look our best. A little detail, easy for him to remember and repeat, and it was a nice touch. Robert has talked to him several times about a regional economic development project, and while Spitzer may not remember his name, he remembers the face and the issue.

So many people pulled the lever for Spitzer with great hopes, and he let them down. That didn't actually happen yesterday, though. Moving from an adversarial role in government to a leadership role turns out to have been difficult for Spitzer, and the letdown had already happened. He was showing some signs that he was starting to learn how to be a chief executive, but I think he had a big chunk of learning curve ahead. He had not yet proven that he could lead, only that he could fight.

Those who are impressed by Hillary Clinton's description of herself as a fighter should take heed. Fighting was not working well for Spitzer. It was uncertain that he would turn out to be a successful governor even before the news broke that he hired prostitutes, and used techniques akin to money laundering to hide his sexual activities.

The most interesting thoughts I've heard so far on why he would hire prostitutes can be heard here. Events in my life have led me to believe that humans are not monogamous, that we seek variety and excitement, and that we are very clever at finding ways to work around sexual norms. I am sorry that his wife had to endure the ritual humiliation of the woman standing by her man, but she may understand better than anyone what drove her husband to pay for sex. I am not suggesting here that she is to blame in any way. They are a political couple, however, both constantly on the road, and home life is probably hard to come by. And I expect she knows him better than anyone else does. As Hillary knows Bill.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this scandal is that New York is very likely to have David Paterson as its governor soon. He also came to our county and spoke at an annual dinner. I missed that dinner, but Robert didn't, and he said that Paterson gave one of the best speeches he has ever heard. Paterson is black, and he is legally blind. He also was a minority leader in the NY State Senate, and thoroughly understands how the legislature works. It will be ironic if Spitzer's hubris results in a governor for this state who understands leadership.

Originally written March 14: Sometimes I Love David Brooks

Of all those conservative Republican commentators out there, I like David Brooks the best. Sometimes I absolutely love what he has to say, because he has quite a bit of insight into human behavior. In my opinion, he has a very rich and nuanced understanding about why we act the way we do.

If you are interested in Eliot Spitzer's self-destruction, here is a link to David Brooks' op-ed column on the subject:

The Rank-Link Imbalance

He describes the way that powerful men such as Spitzer develop. They learn specific social skills that work in public arenas, but they do not develop a capacity for intimacy. Here are a few paragraphs from the piece:

"These Type A men are just not equipped to have normal relationships. All their lives they’ve been a walking Asperger’s Convention, the kings of the emotionally avoidant. Because of disuse, their sensitivity synapses are still performing at preschool levels."

"So when they decide that they do in fact have an inner soul and it’s time to take it out for a romp ... . Well, let’s just say they’ve just bought a ticket on the self-immolation express."

"Maybe they’d be O.K. if somewhere along the way they’d had true friends, defined as a group of people who share a mutual inability to take each other seriously. Maybe they’d be prepared for what is about to happen if they’d subordinated their quest for immortality to the joys of domestic ridicule."

That last part - about true friends not taking each other seriously - I love that description of friendship, and intimacy. There is something there for me to work on, too.


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