If Eliot Spitzer had been president of France or some other European country, his tryst with a prostitute five years ago would have been tabloid fodder for a few months, then forgotten. Not so in this country, of course: Spitzer’s story made Page One headlines, he was forced to resign from office and he’s spent the last five years in political exile, alternately apologizing for his poor judgment, trying to restore his reputation and plotting his return to the political limelight.
Now he thinks it’s time, and we wish him well. Not because he was the greatest governor New York ever had — he was far from it — but because all men deserve second chances, and the sin that got him banished wasn’t that big of one. At least it shouldn’t have been a fatal one, except, perhaps, within his own household.
Spitzer betrayed his wife and family to a far greater degree than he did the people of New York. Yes, he broke some laws by patronizing a prostitute and trying to cover it up, but they were relatively minor ones.
And, yes, he was a hypocrite, having portrayed himself as a squeaky clean crime fighter, beyond reproach.
But if his wife and children could forgive him, or at least act like they do, shouldn’t voters be able to?
Yes, voters can, and should, take Spitzer’s obviously flawed character into account when they weigh his candidacy, whether it’s for comptroller of New York City or any other office he may seek. But they should also take into account his positive qualities: Before he became a mediocre egomaniac of a governor, he was a courageous and mostly successful attorney general, willing to take on the troubling abuses of Wall Street that politicians in larger arenas have, before or since, been unable or unwilling to touch.
Voters also need to take into account Spitzer’s opponent. It would seem unwise to vote for one who is less intelligent, experienced or in other ways qualified for the position just because of Spitzer’s character flaws.
Spitzer has shown he is not perfect — and it wasn’t just his arrogance in carrying on with a prostitute. So what else is new? Voters are often — if not always — forced to choose between flawed candidates, “the lesser of two evils.” And while there clearly are some offenses — such as misappropriation of public funds or exploiting one’s position for personal enrichment — that should forever disqualify a politician from holding office, a personal shortcoming like patronizing a prostitute or having an extramarital affair doesn’t seem to rise to that level.