The revelation last week that Eliot Spitzer will not face charges relating to his long time solicitation of prostitutes passed under the national radar in the wake of a landslide presidential victory. Yet that makes it no less disheartening. While U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia decided to follow a precedent that allows clients soliciting prostitutes to get away without charges, it is no less personally disappointing that his Eliot-ness won’t face charges for hiring a call girl and transporting her across state lines.
Spitzer was elected to the governorship in 2007 and, only 14 months into his term, he was identified as the infamous Client Number Nine in an FBI-lead prostitution sting. He resigned the week following this disclosure, on March 17, ending the promising political career he had started in 1994 with his first run for New York State’s attorney general.
The only bright spot in the decision is that his family will not be forced to relive the public embarrassment he caused them eight months ago. But at the same time, Spitzer will join a long list of high-profile politicians to be sunk by scandal and avoid jail time for their crimes. Each time there’s news of another politician resigning, being indicted or convicted or admitting to serious lapses in his personal judgment, part of our national consciousness dies.
Along with Eliot Spitzer, Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann, congressmen Charlie Rangel and Rick Renzi, Republican National Committee Treasurer Christopher Ward, mayors Kwame Kilpatrick and Sharpe James and others all resigned because they were indicted or convicted for fraud, bribery or sex scandals in 2008. There’s still a month left we may very well be able to add more to the list.
Ted Stevens is another. A week before the presidential election, the senior senator from Alaska was convicted on seven different counts of accepting undisclosed gifts or, in laymen’s terms, he got expensive things from people and didn’t tell anyone. He was subsequently re-elected with 48 percent of the vote.
Something needs to be done to halt the epidemic of corruption that infects a large portion of our political representatives. The argument that we merely know more about the personal lives of our politicians and are aware of the massive corruption in government because of 24-hour news channels and the information available on the internet might be true, but it is equally irrelevant.
Many politicians have survived political scandal and continued to have relatively positive general effects on society. Bill Clinton, Lyndon Baines Johnson, John F. Kennedy and Franklin Delano Roosevelt are all notable examples. Yet each of their legacies will be scarred by poor choices in their personal lives. With Obama’s election, all three of our most recent presidents have admitted to drug use. The morality of dabbling with minor narcotics aside, mixed messages are being sent about our War on Drugs.
The real problem here isn’t the individual behavior of any of these men. I don’t think that Obama’s cocaine use is a strong indicator of his ability to govern the nation, though Bush’s arrest and Clinton’s inability to actually smoke a joint probably should have been tipoffs. Politicians’ deviant behaviors are irritating because they are constantly railing against such acts in speeches.
Though jail time clearly isn’t working as a deterrent, it is even more infuriating that after attacking Wall Street executives for their extravagant, corrupt lifestyles while using an over $5,000 an-hour-escort service, Spitzer won’t receive any jail time. It isn’t even as if he was an angel before this incident became public.
Upon notice of the scandal breaking, the floor of the New York Stock Exchange erupted in cheers. Spitzer’s intimidation and public humiliation tactics to secure settlements during litigation with securities and investment firms were neither appreciated nor, as many argue, effective at working toward real reform.
As leaders, politicians must be held to a higher standard. They are, or are supposed to be, role models for the American public. Spending $10,000 to transport a prostitute across state lines for a Feb. 13 rendezvous does not translate into acceptable behavior. If for no other reason than to spare his family embarrassment, Spitzer should have behaved better.
In the Constitution, we cited a desire to ‘form a more perfect Union,” not one in which ignorance is bliss. Our political representatives chart the direction of our country and, through economic, social and military policy, set the parameters of our daily lives. It is time they acted, at least during their tenure in office, in an acceptable manner.
Kirstein is a member of the class of 2009.