Saturday, March 15, 2008
Notes on a Scandal
Face it. Elliot Spitzer is not the first politician, let alone man, to be involved in a sex scandal and he certainly won't be the last. Tales of infidelity have littered American politics as far back as the nation's founding and have continued to transpire throughout history. While the beginning of the 19th century had Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings , the 1960's had John F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe, and the 1990's had Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky...
and Paula Jones...
and Jennifer Flowers.
And now, the beginning of the 21st century has Eliot Spitzer and Ashley "Kristen" Alexander Dupre.
Same scandalous tune, different politician, different year.
So if America has heard it all before, why all of the commotion?
Although Sptizer's scandal differs from the aforementioned cited politicians in that they did not explicitly pay for sex or sexual favors, or at least didn't do as as far as the public knows, this is hardly something Spitzer should be condemned for. In fact, in comparison to his fellow scandalites, Spitzer should be applauded for his decision to engage in extramarital relations with a prostitute rather than entertain a mistress.
Well, maybe not applauded, but certainly not branded with a scarlet letter for all of eternity.
While the recklessness of Spitzer's actions may suggest otherwise, the Princeton and Harvard Law alum is no dummy. In opting to carry on with a prostitute, Spitzer transformed an act of transgression into a transaction of business. In business, money or collateral is exchanged for good and/or services. In Spitzer's case, money was exchanged for sexual services from Dupre. In essence, the arrangement was really very cut and dry and not nearly as complicated as affairs with mistresses tend to be since the x factor-the emotional connection-is missing. While it is true that employing a prostitute was against the law, if one were to isolate the legality of the circumstances from the situation, than it would be seen as nothing more that what it fundamentally was-just business. Whether or not Sptizer would still have his job had he chosen to follow in Clinton's footsteps remains unclear however I'd be willing to be that even if he could save his job, he's have an even less likely chance of saving his marriage.
With this said, it's not nature of the act that Spitzer committed that has disturbed Americans, but rather the greater meaning and implications it has for American society. American's are preoccupied with Spitzer's case not necessarily because they find it to be horrendously disgraceful and blasphamous but because it hits a little too close to home, as it challenges the true and untainted morality and virtue many American's believe they possess. It's no secret that Spitzer, the "Sheriff of Wall Street" had built his reputation as a "paragon of virtue" by hunting down financiers and breaking up prostitution rings around New York City. Immediately following the scandal critics branded Spitzer a hypocrite, a fraud, and a phony often forgetting that it was not Spitzer who proclaimed himself to be cut from the most morally correct cloth, but rather, the public for interpreting his actions and words to mean so. What Spitzer did (in office) was not who he was, and whether Americans are willing to admit it or not, this is greatly unsettling as we oft believe our actions to be a direct manifestation of our character.