I have to admit that this week's news of the fall of the Governor of New York has caused this writer some amusement and more than a touch of Spitzerfreuden. I've watched his career ever since he was Attorney General of New York and began building a reputation as a ruthless prosecutor that would stop at nothing to bring down his target, including many tactics that some in the legal profession may find highly questionable.
But what I find amazing, but not at all surprising, is the notion from some of his defenders that what Spitzer did wasn't wrong at all. In fact, if we were more enlightened, progressive and sophisticated, all of this behavior would be A-OK.
For example, yesterday Newsweek published this column entitled "Spitzer's Business is Not Our Business" by Anwer Sher which contains statements like this:
So what if the Governor of New York hired a prostitute? Did he force her? Not pay her for the service? If so, then that might be an issue. Perhaps it's illegal, but then how can you regulate the oldest profession in the world? I am against human trafficking, and forcing people against their will. But the question is not what he did -- the real question is, because of who he is, should he have done it? Does being with a prostitute impair his ability to govern the State of New York? Probably not.
No, but those money laundering charges that are likely pending might be a bit of a problem. Mr. Sher continues:
I do feel that intrusive press and intrusive minds really do not have any business in a person's private life. There should be no moral issues, as she was an consenting prostitute, and he was a consenting adult. While this may seem too liberal, the point is that whether it is right or wrong in his personal scheme of life and family. That is a choice he has to make and live with its consequences. In a world where sensational press reports and coverage of celebrity lives is so over the top, there has to be a line drawn on what is a matter of public concern and what is not.
Well, in my opinion, a man who can't be trusted to keep his marriage vows, can't be trusted to remain faithful to his oath of office, either. Also, it has been disclosed that Spitzer allegedly patronized prostitutes when he was prosecuting people for the very same activity. He didn't mind going after others for this "victimless crime." Would this not subject the Governor to extortion? Did he put himself in a position to be able to be bribed? Did he use State money? Did he do this on state time? Did he break State law? Did he break Federal Interstate Laws? This is a matter of public concern. Face it folks, when you work for the taxpayers, you don't have a private life. Let's go back to Sher's column:
In the Middle East, there are many double standards on a number of things, and yet the issue of private and public life are never mixed. In this sense, the Middle East has something to be admired for: public figures are given latitude in their private lives. Would a public figure here admit to hiring a prostitute? Perhaps not, and certainly not because there is a need to do that in the public realm. One might argue that because democracy does not exist, there is no pressure on such leaders to admit anything...
good example. Perhaps Mr. Sher would like to ask the Iranian police chief who got caught with the six prostitutes
about this line of thinking.
But not to be out done, we also have Martha Nussbaum's piece in the Atlanta Journal Constitution bearing the title "Trading on America's Puritanical Streak," which proceeds to take us to task for not being just like her European friends:
My European colleagues (I write from an academic conference in Belgium) have a hard time understanding what happened, but they know that it is one of those things that could only happen in America, where the topic of sex drives otherwise reasonable people insane. In Germany and the Netherlands, prostitution is legal and regulated by public health authorities. A man who did what Spitzer did would have a lot to discuss with his wife and family, but he would have broken no laws, and it would be laughable to accuse him of a betrayal of the public trust. This is as it should be. If Spitzer broke any laws, they were bad laws, laws that should never have existed.
Why are there laws against prostitution? All of us, with the exception of the independently wealthy and the unemployed, take money for the use of our body. Professors, factory workers, opera singers, sex workers, doctors, legislators -- all do things with parts of their bodies for which others offer them a fee. Some people get good wages and some do not; some have a relatively high degree of control over their working conditions and some have little control; some have many employment options and some have very few. And some are socially stigmatized and some are not. However, the difference between the sex worker and the professor -- who takes money for the use of a particularly intimate part of her body, namely her mind -- is not the difference between a "good woman" and a "bad woman." It is, usually, the difference between a prosperous well-educated woman and a poor woman with few employment options.
And just where were the Professor's complaints about America Puritanism when Spitzer was putting people in jail for being in the very same business? The Governor knew what he did was illegal and wrong but he did it anyway. No one forced him to destroy his own life and throw away a position he worked all of his life to attain. If I were a cynical person, (heaven forbid) one might come to the conclusion that these obviously progressive writers are expressing these kinds of opinions simply because there is a "D" after Spitzer's name. The tune would likely be quite different if it was an "R", I imagine.
Moral issues aside, all of this doesn't change the fact that Spitzer will probably have to pay heavily for breaking the laws that he was so vigorous about enforcing as a prosecutor. You can't say prostitution is a scourge upon society and then make an exception for yourself, like Spitzer did. You can legalize prostitution, as some "enlightened" countries have done, but I doubt it will ever gain moral acceptance.
The last part of the article is really what floored me, though:
* Martha Nussbaum is a professor of law and ethics at the University of Chicago.
Sometimes the jokes just write themselves.