Hubris and the Hooker

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You play hard, you play rough, and hopefully you don’t get caught.

~ Eliot Spitzer (2006)

Once upon a time but not too long ago my state of New York was saved from Eliot Spitzer, a particularly nasty breed of politician, all because of a beautiful hooker from New Jersey.

Praise her name, Ashley Alexandra Dupre! Also known as Ashley Rae Maika DiPietro and Ashley Youmans and Kristen and Victoria she’s the type of girl that you date for a fun-filled drug-fueled summer, engage in a screaming, bottle throwing break up with come October, to forever after remember her fondly until your last breath.

As for Eliot Spitzer, he was New York governor but luckily not for very long, as he was a foul-mouthed bully and power mad. Swaggering down our state’s Main Street, he was dubbed "the Enforcer" by an adoring, slavish media. Eliot rose to prominence first by using his political power as state attorney general to threaten and shake down his fellow New Yorkers.

The "terror of Wall Street" and many other streets he may have been, but luckily for most he was easily bribed to go away. But he had not played nice with the New York State legislator, and threatened to maybe even make them stop being so openly for sale, and that body has a long, august history of chewing up any challengers to their looting. Soon enough, unseemly couplings with a prostitute brought down Eliot, and an outraged People sent him packing.

The whole sordid mess started at Harvard (naturally). One of Eliot’s professors recalls “what set him apart” from his fellow students was “he was interested in a career in politics” which tells us quite a bit about Eliot right off the bat. And Harvard was where he met someone who wasn’t a very good judge of character, a law professor named Susan Estrich, who actually advised this monster to go into politics and to use the state attorney’s office as a stepping-stone.

Example of the type of man Eliot Spitzer was as both attorney general and then governor is given by the time he called a news reporter (who dared to disagree with him in print) and threatened, “You will pay the price. This is only the beginning and you will pay dearly for what you have done.”

He also enjoyed pulling off publicity stunts like threatening to arrest his targets in front of their wives and children and he had quite a temper, too, they say. Imagine this man if he’d gotten to the White House? He’d have made Dick Cheney look like John Adams.

Ms. Kimberly Strassel of the Wall Street Journal best sums up his style. "The Spitzer method was to target public companies and officials, leak allegations and out-of-context emails to a compliant press, watch the stock price fall, threaten corporate indictment (a death sentence) and then move in for a quick settlement kill. There was rarely a trial involved."

Using the immense, arbitrary power granted to a New York district attorney, Eliot moved from one Mafia-like shakedown to the next, piling millions of dollars into the state coffers and collecting millions more in "donations" from the very same firms and people he was persecuting. Naturally, this made him a rising star in the political world (he was, after all, reeling in the dough).

Fortunately for the people of our state, and maybe even the world at large, Eliot combined his foolish threats against his fellow politicians with a habit of frequenting hookers and, due to the pervasive surveillance society we live in, his bank records (like everyone’s bank records) were an open book to be trolled by whatever bureaucrat wished to paddle around in them. And when, just by the purest of coincidences, some bureaucrat happened to be paddling around in Eliot’s, what was stumbled upon?

Illicit payments to a brothel called "The Emperor’s Club" to engage the services of a prostitute! Yes! And not only that, he had knowingly broken the Mann Act, which makes it a federal offense to transport a hooker across state lines. And even worse for Eliot, his wife would now learn that he had last used the brothel on Valentine’s Day.

We know all this for certain because (sing along now) of the pervasive surveillance society we live in — his phone calls were tapped. Caught red-handed as red-handed can get, as soon as Eliot was finished in that hotel room so was his political career.

Despite clear evidence which investigators had on Eliot, despite the phone calls and banking records and Eliot himself even admitting that he was in fact guilty of violating the Mann Act (among other laws) U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia claimed there was “insufficient evidence” to convict. What exactly would he have needed to convict Eliot was left unsaid, maybe a sex tape of him and his rented partners? Would that be enough?

More likely, the fact that he was a politician, a state governor no less, weighed heavily in his favor, as he certainly knew about a lot of skeletons in a lot of other closets. So in the end it was decided that as long as he went quietly, he wouldn’t have to exit the stage through any jail cell.

Yet no adult believes that a sitting state governor was bought down for something so routine as frequenting brothels. The truth is, even before his personal, fateful, dirty little St. Valentine’s Day tryst Eliot had already made his fatal blunder.

Eliot, like all the dim-bulb Ivy League bankers pouring their firms’ capital into sub-prime mortgages, came to believe his own line of bullshit, and by his hubris New York was saved. Believing the ever-fickle voters were solidly behind him he was now going to Clean Up Albany the way he had Cleaned Up Wall Street. “Listen, I’m a f—ing steamroller, and I’ll roll over you and anybody else,” he threatened and bragged to his fellow politicians.

The stature of his office having gone to his head Eliot forgot that at base, he was nothing more than a college educated shakedown artist, one whose personal life was as seedy as his political one, and this left him extremely vulnerable to political attack. Had he confined himself to merely making life miserable for ordinary citizens rather than going after his fellow politicians, he would still to this day be sitting on his throne in Albany.

Eliot’s biggest failure as a politician came from the fact that when he attained the governorship, he still wanted to play "crusader," he completely forgot that it was no longer powerless, cowering businessmen he was bullying around, but other politicians, all equally powerful and also, like him, completely lacking in scruples or any respect for the law.

They quickly made chum out of him, Eliot resigned his office within barely a year.

Laws Are For The Little People

I believe in an evolving Constitution. A flexible Constitution leaves room for us to consider not merely how the world once was, but how it ought to be.

~ Eliot Spitzer

Eliot Spitzer’s sordid tale is but one more example that in modern America it’s not the "rich" hiding behind their million dollar lawyers who can safely ignore our court system’s voracious appetite for victims, it is the political class who can, overwhelmingly, safely ignore the law. Glenn Greenwald speaks to this repeatedly on his blog, using the refusal to prosecute any politician who ordered his underlings to torture as an example. But examples of this trend extend far beyond just torture — the problem is more a wholesale refusal by the political class to obey any law at all.

In his blasé disregard of the law, Eliot Spitzer is a perfect example of this trend, but he’s far from alone. From former district attorney Michael Nifong — a junkie so addicted to power that he was willing to jail three men he knew to be innocent in order to feed his habit (he served no jail time) to former state comptroller Alan Hevesi, caught stealing over $80,000 from the public till (he served no jail time) to Eliot Spitzer getting caught red-handed violating the Mann Act and suffering no punishment other than ridicule, in America the disregard for the law runs deep.

America’s political system is a shambles, home to legions of lesser specimens that all bring to mind Adam Smith’s description of the type of man Spitzer is:

Arrogance is perfectly familiar to them. They entertain no doubt of the immense superiority of their own judgment. When such (reformers) condescend to contemplate the constitution of the country which is committed to their government, they seldom see anything so wrong in it as the obstructions which it may sometimes oppose to the execution of their own will.

Eliot Spitzer is merely a particularly nasty specimen of the kind. If he were still New York governor, how many innocent men would at this moment be torn from their families, sleeping in a prison on his orders?

In a New York Times profile in March of 2008, Ashley Alexandra Dupre pleaded that she doesn’t want to be "thought of as a monster," and she shouldn’t be. It’s important to keep in mind the hero of our story is not whatever bureaucrat was paddling the U.S.S. Stasi through Eliot’s banking statements and listening in on his phone calls.

Rather it was Ashley herself, as she’s the one who actually took it for the team, who did the dirty work that needed to be done to protect our freedoms. The only thing that spared New York from a full term of Spitzer was this perfect combination of hubris and a hooker.

And now the newspapers report Eliot’s craving for power is in full bloom again, that he’s threatening another run for office, and I fear we cannot count on lightening striking twice.

I thank God for Ashley Alexandra Dupre — a genuine American hero — and urge that we all honor her hard work and sacrifice in two ways. First, by letting her throw out the first pitch to open the 2010 New York Mets baseball season, and most importantly by never letting a man such as Eliot Spitzer anywhere near a position of power again.

C.J. Maloney [send him mail] lives and works in New York City. He is currently writing a book on Arthurdale, West Virginia during the New Deal. He blogs for Liberty & Power on the History News Network website. He will be speaking at the September Manhattan LP meeting, details here.

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