March 2008 Ethics Dunces

"Client Number 9"

"Good afternoon. For the past nine years, eight years as attorney general, and one as governor, I have tried to uphold a vision of progressive politics that would rebuild New York and create opportunity for all. We sought to bring real change to New York and that will continue.

"Today I want to briefly address a private matter. I have acted in a way that violates my obligations to my family and violates my, or any, sense of right and wrong. I apologize first and most importantly to my family. I apologize to the public, whom I promised better. I do not believe that politics in the long run is about individuals. It is about ideas, the public good, and doing what is best for the state of New York. But I have disappointed and failed to live up to the standard I expected of myself. I must now dedicate some time to regain the trust of my family.

"I will not be taking questions. Thank you very much. I will report back to you in short order. Thank you very much."

With that vague but provocative statement, New York Governor Eliot Spitzer responded to the public revelation that he was "Client Number 9" in the dealings of an international prostitution ring, known as "The Emperor's Club." It also established him as solid gold Ethics Dunce. A federal wiretap had confirmed that Spitzer almost certainly violated laws by transporting a high-priced sex partner into Washington, D.C., by negotiating directly with a criminal enterprise, and by going to great lengths to disguise cash transfers to that enterprise. In so doing so, Spitzer probably spent state funds, and definitely exposed himself to possible extortion that could have compromised his independence in the service of the people of New York. (Is it conceivable that he never has seen "The Godfather, Part 2," and what happened to the prostitute-prone U.S. Senator from Nevada in that film?) Meanwhile, the money the governor transferred to "The Emperor's Club"---nearly $5,000 for four hours of kinky recreation this time, more on other occasions--- went right into the pockets of organized crime.

By no stretch of the imagination did this chain of misconduct constitute "a private matter." Not when laws are broken, not when a state's chief executive is engaged in financial dealings with a criminal enterprise. High elected officials may not break the laws they are sworn to support and enforce. Is integrity, honesty, openness, candor and respect for the laws by public officials a legitimate public concern? You're right: it's a stupid question. Any idiot could answer it. Apparently an Ethics Dunce can not.

It is certainly doubly damning that Spitzer rode into office on the white horse of a law and order reformer, a former crusading Attorney General who prosecuted exactly the kind of illicit enterprises that he has now been caught patronizing. But it wouldn't matter if he rode into office on a muskrat---governors have a duty to maintain the highest dignity and honor in office, and to obey the law.

In his half-apology, the wayward governor really slammed the Ethics Dunce cap down over his eyes with his absurd second attempt to minimize his accountability, saying that he did "not believe that politics in the long run is about individuals," but is "about ideas, the public good, and doing what is best for the state of New York." Ideas don't actually do anything, unfortunately, without competent, trustworthy and responsible people executing measures that embody them. Elected officials who believe that laws they are zealous about enforcing against others don't apply to themselves are willing to put their own "good" before the public's. What is "best for the state of New York' is to have a governor who understands these things, and more important, is willing to live by them..

As always when politicians are caught in sex-related crimes, there are little Ethics Dunces who rush to the side of the big one. Just as he did with President Clinton, Alan Dershowitz popped up on CNN making an asinine and ethically bone-headed argument. Why, lots of presidents engaged in sexual misconduct, The Great Defender intoned, and still went on to be "great chief executives." Oddly, those he named (Jefferson, Kennedy and Clinton) did not include a single one who could be fairly called a great president, but beside that minor point, WHAT??? Jefferson's sexual relationship with his slave who was also his dead wife's half-sister---how convenient!--- was an abuse of power and a disgraceful breach of integrity. Had it been widely publicized earlier, he would not have been president, much less on Mount Rushmore. Kennedy's trysts with a mob moll and an Israeli spy compromised national security, and would have rightly gotten him impeached if it hadn't been covered up by the press. Clinton's affair, the only one of the three to be discovered while the president was in office, damaged the country and the culture in measurable ways…and it didn't even involve illegality until he lied under oath. So this was Dershowitz's defense of Spitzer's criminal conduct: Presidents have been irresponsible, reckless and have abused their offices too, and if you get away with it, it doesn't do any real damage. Time to retire, Alan.

And time to resign, Governor. If his Mayflower Hotel tryst doesn't prove it, Spitzer's statement does. When a governor declares that law-breaking by an elected official is a "private matter," he can't be trusted. Ethics Dunces seldom can.




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