What Eliot Spitzer Reminds Us About American Politics
The Eliot Spitzer prostitution scandal can be viewed through many lenses, ranging from the story of sex obsessed governor blinded by his own power to the tragic fall of a man who, but for his significant shortcomings, may have done a great deal of good for the people of New York. What these two approaches have in common is that they make good stories but lack any long term analytical benefit. For Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike, the fall of Governor Spitzer should serve as an intellectual catalyst that forces us to confront a critical question for our democracy: What is it about American politics and our political system that seems to lure a disproportionate number of these severally flawed people to the profession and how do we keep electing them?
Some may question my premise by arguing that the Spitzers of the world are rarities, but I would respond with the following two observations about the people we attract to government service. First, if the intellectual and psychological shortcomings of our elected officials were lumped into the problem of attracting the wrong people to politics, the size and scope of this problem would be stunning. Second, even though we only know about the scandals that are discovered, the numbers are fairly disturbing. With thanks to Wikipedia, let’s review a very small sampling of some high profile examples of this problem since 2002.
2008: Governor Eliot Spitzer (D-NY) resigns after being caught up in prostitution ring. Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick (D-MI) is caught having an extramarital affair with his Chief-of-Staff.
2007: Notorious homophobe Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct (attempting to solicit sex from another male) in a Minneapolis airport men's room. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D) caught having extramarital affair with Spanish-language television reporter. Congressman Bob Allen (R-FL) busted for solicitation of a police officer in public men's room. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom (D) accused of extramarital affair with wife of campaign manager. Former Newark Mayor Sharpe James (D-NJ) accused of numerous corruption charges including, mail fraud, conspiracy, wire fraud and using city money to boost his salary and pension and to pay for his numerous sexual affairs.
2006: Congressman Mark Foley (R-FL) accused of sending sexually explicit instant messages to an underage congressional page. State Comptroller Alan Hevesi (D-NY) pleaded guilty to one count of defrauding the government.
2005: Congressman Roosevelt Dobbins (D-AR) pleaded guilty to misdemeanor harassment for fondling a teenager. Spokane, WA Mayor Jim West (R) charged with child molestation. Governor Bob Taft (R-OH) is convicted on four first-degree misdemeanor ethics violations. Congressman William J. Jefferson (D-LA) charged with bribery after the FBI seized $90,000 of a $100,000 bribery payment from Jefferson's home freezer (but he still got re-elected!). Congressman Duke Cunningham (R-CA) resigned and pleaded guilty on November 28, 2005 to charges of conspiracy to commit bribery, mail fraud and wire fraud, and tax evasion. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), reprimanded twice by House Ethics Committee and indicted for violating campaign finance laws.
2004: Governor Jim McGreevey (D-NJ) resigns after being caught having a homosexual extramarital affair and with the filing of unrelated corruption charges imminent. Congressman Don Sherwood (R-PA) caught having an extramarital affair with accusations of abuse. Governor John Rowland (R-CT) Rowland resigned from office during a corruption investigation, and later pleaded guilty in federal court
2002: Governor Paul Patton (D-KY) had an affair become public after his former mistress alleged retaliation against her business. Providence, RI Mayor Vincent Cianci (R) convicted of racketeering conspiracy. Senator Robert Torricelli (D-NJ) resigns during bribery scandal. Congressman Jim Traficant (D-OH) expelled after being convicted of taking bribes, filing false tax returns, racketeering, and forcing his aides to perform chores at his farm and on his houseboat.
There are numerous reasons why the best and the brightest (and the most ethical) persons generally avoid politics like the plague. I have my theories, but rather than present them here, I would like to hear what the DMI Blog’s readers think. The simple truth is we cannot fix politics and until we fully identify its systemic problems. I will look forward to reading your thoughts.