Thursday, March 13, 2008

Say it Ain't So, Eliot

Well, I go on a vacation for a week, I return home, and New York State has a new governor! I have a lot of blogging to do on the Spitzer crack-up and I will be writing about this for several days at least, but I will spread my posts so as to avoid an opining glut.

I guess a standard response to the foibles of humanity and our innate penchant for corruption is to quote Capt. Louis Renault from Casabalanca, “I’m shocked, shocked to find gambling is going on here!” But sometimes, something sharp enough can cut through our habitual cynicism and rather than being “shocked, shocked” we are simply left dumbfounded, and just plain shocked, silent upon a peak in Darien, contemplating the human capacity for self-destructive behavior.

Count me as one of those who was shocked by the revelations that Spitzer had paid numerous visits to a high price call-girl service, and one of those, who felt, immediately that he had no choice but to resign. (And if you ask me, why I spent a year arguing that Bill Clinton ought not to resign in the face of similar sexual indiscretions--—though obviously, the fact that Clinton did not use prostitutes makes a difference, I suppose, in terms of the prima facie legality of the acts, I can’t really tell you. This seems worse, and Spitzer rightly resigned. By the way, the Spitzer/Clinton comparison makes me suspicious of the oft made statement in the last few days that it was Spitzer’s shuddering plummet from the heights of moral rectitude than made his resignation inevitable. It seems to me the general consensus was, from his rise to prominence, that Bill Clinton was a poontang hound of rare assiduousness, and certainly after the Monica revelations few (certainly no Republicans)made the argument that no one should care who cares if he added a few more entries to his extensive catalogue; sex scandals envelop and destroy the upright and the dissolute alike, even Don Juan, who, as Mozart tells us, had sexual relations with 1,003 women in Spain alone, before complications with the 1,004th led to his being dragged to hell by the devil.

But sex scandals can make armchair psychologists of all of us, and I would like to resist the temptation. What drove Spitzer to his acts, I do not know, but if he is interested I know a few good therapists in the city he might want to talk to. I found myself in sympathy with Gail Collins’s column in the Times this morning, speculating on how well we know any politician. I know all too well from recent tragedies in my family, that you can discover, the hard way, that people you thought you knew well, you really didn’t know at all in some fundamental way. The 10% you don’t know can, in the right circumstances, destroy the 90% you do. I believe there is a death instinct, and an instinct for self-humiliation and degradation, and when Spitzer’s dark side spoke, Spitzer answered the call.

I guess the ultimate unknowability of human personality is a particular problem in a political system that tends to devalue ideological issues in favor of letting voters see “character” and
“personality,” and “leadership” as the key traits to evaluate in considering potential office holders. Beyond the reality that political personality and character has become marketable, commodity, one that can manipulated and advertised like any commodity, and can be utterly falsified, like our current president’s affability or leadership ability, there are questions if anyone can ever really know anyone else’s personality to trust them as much we need to trust our elected officials. Currently, Hilary Clinton is running an add that questions who would you rather trust at 3 o’clock in the morning to make crucial split second decisions, arguing that it should be her. Besides the fear mongering this ad invokes, I think it is profoundly misguided. I don’t trust anyone to make wise decisions at 3 o’clock in the morning, and sometimes we experience our “dark nights of the soul” in broad daylight, when, as client nine, we go to room 871 of the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. More to follow.

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