By Raanan Geberer
Four years ago, Gov. Eliot Spitzer was forced to resign after he was identified as a client in a high-priced prostitution ring. At the time one editorial after another said that even without the prostitution scandal, Spitzer had it coming — that he was arrogant, out of touch with ordinary people, overaggressive and too self-righteous.
Yet, look at Spitzer today. He has a cable TV show, “Viewpoint with Eliot Spitzer,” and is currently teaching an undergraduate course at City College. He writes columns for the well-known Slate website, which is sponsored by Microsoft.
While the prostitution scandal is, of course, mentioned from time to time (Rachel Maddow once asked him whether he thought prostitution should be legal), the focus is more on Spitzer’s expertise in law, government and finance. He’ll never hold elected office again, we can be reasonably sure, but he’s a comfortable member of the left-liberal Democratic elite.
Let us contrast Spitzer with another Democratic politician who was caught in a sex-related scandal: former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Brooklyn/Queens), who was forced to resign after a “sexting” scandal. Unlike Spitzer, who probably began seeking ways to re-enter public life the day after he resigned, Weiner has kept a low profile. The only time we heard about him was when he became a new parent, at which time he gave a few interviews.
Why the difference? Part of it may be due to the fact that, for politicians, soliciting high-class prostitutes (or, as they used to be known, “call girls”) and/or having affairs is considered par for the course, although not desirable. By contrast, sending photos of one’s member by email is considered bizarre, strange, beyond the pale.
It may also be due to the fact that Spitzer’s father is a multimillionaire real estate developer, and that Spitzer himself went to Princeton and Harvard. People from such a background develop a great self-confidence that enables them to come back from any situation. Weiner, with his Brooklyn middle-class background, on the other hand, is more vulnerable and more prone to emotional collapse.
We hear much about the fact that Weiner’s behavior — his yelling at his staff, his screaming on the House floor — alienated so many people that by the time of his scandal, few wanted to defend him. But people who raise this argument forget that the same type of charges were made against Spitzer.
As attorney general, Spitzer often used little-known legal clauses to pursue cases that would ordinarily have been federal cases. As governor, he made the well-publicized remark to a political opponent, “I’m a f--- steamroller and I’ll roll over you and anyone else.” Later on his term, he used state police to keep tabs on the whereabouts of the Republican leader in the state Senate.
All in all, he developed the reputation as a bully. Yet, Spitzer is where he is, and Weiner is where he is.
What exactly did Weiner advocate? Among other things, he advocated a single-payer health plan — the type of plan that is utilized in almost every single country in the world, except the U.S. When it became clear that that wasn’t a valid option, he strongly advocated for the “public option,” arguing that it was necessary to force the insurance companies to give up their some of their “30 percent expenditure in profits and overhead” and start lowering prices. When that, in turn, was basically killed by Joe Lieberman, Weiner proposed lowering the age for Medicare to 55.
Weiner’s arguments were so good and he had so many facts at his disposal, he left TV talk show host Joe Scarborough speechless. That’s precisely why he was targeted by the late, unlamented blogger Andrew Breitbart. There are plenty of Republican conservatives who have sex scandals, yet Breitbart targeted Weiner for his real crime — opposition to the agenda of the big insurance companies.
Hopefully, Weiner will someday return to the TV talk show circuit. Maybe he left something to be desired as a congressman, maybe he’s somewhat disturbed as an individual, but that doesn’t mean what he was advocating is any less valid today than it was back then.