A Few Thoughts on the Resignation of Eliot Spitzer

I hadn’t intended to make any comments on the self-destruction of Eliot Spitzer. I’ve tended to avoid discussing the sexual behavior of politicians, for a variety of reasons: the most prominent being that the personal vices of individuals doesn’t really relate to ideological issues. Heaven knows we’ve seen people in every camp fall prey to temptation. But I’ve had many people ask me about my opinion, in person or over email, so I thought I might as well share some belated thoughts.

We live in a carnal world. We human beings are frail creatures, easily given to sin. Sexual sin is very prevalent in our world, much more so than I was lead to believe growing up in a supposedly upstanding religious community. Even “good” people often succumb to the lures of the flesh. I have been very saddened to learn this. I see the heartache this causes in families, the lives it can wreak. I pray humanity can learn to vanquish this part of our world. But as of this moment, it is an immense trap for many of us.

I believe in forgiveness and compassion. No scarlet letters, please. History has shown that people who might succumb to temptation can be effective and even socially transformative leaders. Personal sins should be considered just that: personal. Adultery is between sinner, spouse, and God. We should leave it there, and not make it a political issue.

Spitzer’s case, however, isn’t merely about extramarital sex. It is about participating in prostitution, sexual trafficing. And as I understand it, we’re talking about a felony offense for the means by which he attempted to cover his tracks. Nothing proven yet, but Spitzer’s immediate but vague confession certainly seems to justify the charges. The citizens of New York should not tolerate such activity from the chief executive officer of their state. While I question the motives of the NY Republican drive to impeach, it was indeed absolutely imperative that Spitzer be removed from office. I’m glad pressure mounted for his resignation.

Same goes for Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, by the way. The apparent affair might be forgiven. The manner in which he has apparently abused his power to obstruct justice and protect his hide is a betrayal of the public and should not be tolerated.

I was disappointed to learn that Spitzer has been harboring such crimes. From what I had followed of his career, he had seemed a strong advocate for the public. He had worked hard to hold Wall Street to decent ethical standards and to be more accountable for the harm its excesses caused. But no amount of good deeds can excuse crimes such as those in which he apparently indulged. If we allow politicians this sort of license because of their party affiliation, we cede any claim to moral legitimacy.

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6 Responses to “A Few Thoughts on the Resignation of Eliot Spitzer”

  1. Aaron Orgill Says:

    Very good post. And you are right to question the motives of some who are out for blood, my own feelings are similar to yours in that I felt ultimately that the hypocrisy (participation in things he was publicly fighting against) and abuse of power in covering his tracks are ultimately what makes it an “unpardonable” sin (politically speaking).

    I do have some further thoughts on our own responsibilities to support those we feel are of good moral character. For the last few years as I have moderated my very conservative background, I really felt uncomfortable with how viciously many conservative LDS people attacked President Clinton and others who have been guilty of sexual misconduct. However, lately I have come back around to reconsider things. As self-righteous as some of these people may be, I recall President Hinckley telling Larry King during the Lewinsky scandal that there can be no divorce between someone’s public persona and their personal life. I sincerely try to withhold judgment on people who have made such mistakes, but I guess as I think more about it, it bothers me that you and many are convinced that the two are completely separate and distinct. Given what we know about JFK and Dr. King’s severe skirt-chasing tendencies, and their very eloquent speech and talents, I won’t say that you are wrong to say that they or others had great qualities. But it seems to me that perhaps we are going in the wrong direction if we are too quick to say, “it’s their business” and continue our support without asking some serious questions just because we like their policies. If someone is willing to violate what is still generally regarded as one of the most serious agreements of their life (marriage), then why are we so sure that they have any better character in their public lives and won’t screw around on us, so to speak, when the heat is on? We elected President Clinton in 1992 knowing full well he was a habitual womanizer, and it somehow rocked our world when the Lewinsky story broke in 1998. And while he was undoubtedly charismatic, intelligent, and would be a fascinating professor on a variety of subjects, it’s hard to make the case that he ever did anything truly courageous, or showed great character. We have a President in office who has gotten a lot of support by being very public about his Christianity, whilst making some decisions that a majority would say have caused serious damage, so I don’t recommend that we just take our politicians’ words at face value, but I think it has to just as valid a concern when we do find something disturbing and evil and are so jaded that we barely give another thought to the fact that we put this person in office, and do not strongly consider the possibility that if something slimy has already been discovered, even worse things may lie beneath. We can never really know our public servants thoroughly, at least not in the way God knows them and their hearts, but are we too tolerant? Is it really appropriate to overlook it when we do get personal information about serious character defects? I don’t claim to know, but it has made me think seriously. Thoughts?

  2. D. Sirmize Says:

    Well put, Aaron. Especially the following line:

    “If someone is willing to violate what is still generally regarded as one of the most serious agreements of their life (marriage), then why are we so sure that they have any better character in their public lives and won’t screw around on us, so to speak, when the heat is on?”

    An article from the American Thinker yesterday echoes these thoughts:

    “So it needs restating as a simple truth that a man who cannot control his sexual impulses is unlikely to succeed in more complex matters. In little over a year, Spitzer threw away the goodwill engendered by his landslide victory through a series of petty conspiracies and dirty tricks, bringing New York state government to a standstill in the process. ”

    By cheating on his wife and engaging in illegal acts to do it, the governor of a major U.S. state made himself vulnerable to blackmail and extortion. THAT is my problem with politicians and their sexual Achilles heals. I don’t care what they do in the bedroom. But when you do that as an elected official, you put yourself, your country/state, and the people you represent in jeopardy. That IS the public business.

  3. jennifer Says:

    I think that the concerns raised here are really important. I have mixed feelings too on this matter. If we knew sordid private details about all the elected congressmen/senators/judges/governors, I think we would be nauseated and outraged – – – maybe it’s good that we don’t know???? I mean, there aren’t many left among the grand political scope to “cast the stone”.

    So the question follows – how can the electorate find and support those candidates who do not fall into these lurid traps? How hard is it to find men and women willing to run who HAVE not and WILL not fall into those common errors? I think that the solution must include ways to allow dutiful and faithful citizens to run for office (campaign finance reform?)…. Thoughts?

  4. Aaron Orgill Says:

    Jennifer, very good points. I just have one little quarrel with what you’re saying, and I don’t mean this to sound cynical at all, but our dutiful and faithful citizens have their problems too. One of the problems of our frail mortal existence is that you can NEVER be sure that someone has not and will not fall. The closest we can get is probably the Brethren, but even recent history shows that they too are human, and some have fallen from being the elect to very low places. What concerns me is that we have to accept those frailties to some extent, but we absolutely cannot ignore serious wrongdoing and be so convinced that a serious personal defect is separate from who they are in their jobs. And I fear that there are elements in our political process that actually invite corruption, so the squeaky clean inexperienced idealist really has to be on his game not to get his/her hands dirty.

  5. Derek Staffanson Says:

    I would never say that personal life and public life are entirely separate. Yes, the two do effect each other. But they do not absolutely control each other. The American Thinker article is wrong. There have been many people who have accomplished great, even noble things despite several personal failings, among which may be promiscuity or infidelity. The example Aaron raised of MLK is very appropriate. He was a great man despite being prey to an incredibly tragic flaw (one which, unlike many other “great” men like JFK, he acknowledged to be a flaw and agonized over). He might have been greater still had he been able to reign in his sins, but he was undeniably still a great man despite his failing.

    Yes, sexual sin can put a person in vulnerable positions politically (subject to blackmail, etc). When it does, they should be held accountable and removed (a la Spitzer) But it does not invariably do so. And there are plenty of other sins which politicians, business leaders, etc engage in which more directly harm the public than fornication. We the public should be much more concerned about those sins than about private ones which are much less likely to impact us. Grave as they are, they do not involve us.

    Moreover, we should recognize that as serious as it is, fornication is and always has been rampant in our society. It may be more endemic among our government and civic leaders, captains of industry, and the entertainment/sports glitterati (power and fame have always been incredible aphrodisiacs), but it is more common among the average folk than we might think. We in LDS communities tend to think we’re so secure, so protected. But I know bishops, Elders Quorum presidents, Ward mission leaders, in several comfortable suburban communities who fell prey to infidelity. I’ve seen a few instances in my extended family, all active LDS people, who’ve given in. And most of them are still good people. they are well-meaning, well-intentioned people, albeit flawed (who isn’t?). If we’re going demand incredible moral rectitude, we might have precious few from which to choose.

    We need to face the facts that the temptations of the flesh are among the most powerful out there, that many people fall. We should mourn this fact, but we’re wrong if we’re going to condemn. Remember the Savior’s admonition to the fallen woman “let he who is without sin [he didn’t specify sexual sin, but merely sin] cast the first stone.”

  6. jennifer Says:

    Derek – you’re right that ordinary people are similarly flawed as public officials. I didn’t mean to imply otherwise. But that’s where that “hypocrisy” idea comes in. Many people in the general population, LDS and otherwise, realize their own follies and are quick to forgive and overlook failings in others – and are willing to admit their imperfections. The fury comes in when leaders openly insist on “family values” and “saving marriage” and “moral living” while they privately act otherwise.

    And yes, we sometimes get strange notions about the LDS types being above and beyond these pitfalls. But it isn’t true. We’re all still human. Hopefully we have a smaller percentage of people who struggle, but we will always have people in every town and stake that have similar problems. Can those people still be fantastic people with tremendous gifts to share? Yes, regardless of their faith or religion.

    Aaron – I agree with your comment too. That was my point, that we can TRY to find good leaders but we can’t ever be sure. Finding that balance you mention between what is acceptable error and what is not can be tricky in these democratic processes. And really, I think it’s what makes a democracy difficult and worthwhile. It forces us to pass judgement on our leaders, put forth some effort and take responsibility. I think that people are forced to balance their moral compasses with being forgiving. I think it’s tough for some Christians who firmly believe that they will be judged as harshly or leniently as they judge others. (but then other Christians don’t see it that way….) sigh.

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