27 March 2008

Spitzer and Prostitution: Hypocrisy and Humor

The Objectivist
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
March 14, 2008

There is a tremendous amount of hypocrisy and humor in the Eliot Spitzer debacle. For starters, it’s hard to know who’s more hypocritical: Spitzer or the Democrats.

First, consider the hypocrisy of Spitzer. Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer was caught on a federal wiretap arranging to meet a $1,000-an-hour prostitute who went by the name Ashley Alexandra Dupré and worked for a prostitution ring called the Emperors Club VIP. According to newspaper reports, Spitzer had seven or eight liaisons with other prostitutes over six months and had paid more than $15,000 for these hookups. According to various reports, Spitzer paid up as much as $80,000 for prostitutes over last several years during which time he was the attorney general and governor. In the last one, he stayed at the fancy Mayflower Hotel under the name “George Fox” (one of his donors) and his tryst ended a few minutes into Valentine’s Day.

As a prosecutor, Spitzer aggressively pursued prostitution. For example, he vigorously pursued a Staten Island prostitution racket and got the ringleader to plead to a 2-6 year sentence, induced in part by Spitzer and company’s threat to push for a harsher sentence. Given how aggressively he prosecuted this case, his behavior seems inconsistent.

Spitzer was a disgusting person before he won the governorship. His campaign against Wall Street was characterized by public accusations that tanked a company’s stock (for example, Merrill Lynch’s stock sunk by $5 billion after one set of charges) and then led to settlements that generated massive publicity for him. This method of avoiding trial allowed the people he labeled felons to walk free. This trial by press release allowed him to reap publicity as “The Sheriff of Wall Street.” He was able to bully these companies because of a New York law, the Martin Act, which gives the New York attorney general powers that other attorney generals merely dream about. As Alan Reynolds of the CATO Institute points out, this 1921 law allows the attorney general to subpoena any document from anyone doing business in the state, denies persons called into questioning the right to counsel and the right against self-incrimination, and does not require the attorney general to show that the defendant intended to defraud anyone or actually did defraud anyone.

Spitzer had been part of an earlier scandal when New York attorney general Andrew Cuomo criticized his administration for ordering the police to keep close tabs on the whereabouts of New York Senate leader Joseph Bruno when he traveled with police escort. These records were intended to cause Bruno political damage. It is unquestionably more dangerous to the democratic process and government integrity to have the governor’s staff using the police as a political weapon than to have a governor paying a prostitute.

Second, consider the hypocrisy of the Democratic Party. Many of the same prissy little state officials and Democratic Party members who wanted Spitzer to resign opposed the impeachment and conviction of President Bill Clinton. If the difference were that Spitzer paid his woman and Clinton didn’t, this would not support throwing out only the first. Of course, this was not the only difference. Clinton also committed acts of perjury, witness tampering, and obstruction of justice. His administration then followed that up with legal claims that often didn’t pass the laugh test. In contrast, Spitzer at most probably broke the Mann Act (The United States White-Slave Act of 1910) and one or two petty and privacy-invading laws about the ways in which you can pay others. The former is an outdated and almost never used law that prohibits the transportation of a woman across state lines for immoral purposes. This sloppy statute has at times been used to prosecute men for transporting mistresses across state lines, employers for driving prostitutes home after a vacation, and polygamist Mormons for transporting their wives across state lines. One wonders whether lifelong Democrats should be prohibited from teaching math or logic.

In addition, the Democrats have a long history of electing adulterers to high office. In the Twentieth Century, five of the seven Democratic President were adulterers (Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Bill Clinton). Even their unsuccessful Presidential nominees show a penchant for adultery, see Jesse Jackson, Gary Hart, and the Kennedy boys Ted and Robert. When the Kennedys came out in support of Barack Obama on the basis that he was the most similar to JFK, no one mentioned the latter’s use of prostitutes. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) left a woman to drown when he drove his car off a bridge in Chappaquiddick, Massachusetts and yet in 1980 he was seriously considered for the Democratic presidential nomination. Even Democratic patron saint Martin Luther King Jr. was a serial adulterer. Given this history, Captain Renault in Casablanca would be shocked, shocked at Spitzer’s behavior.

More fundamental than the fact that Spitzer and President Clinton’s defenders are disgusting hypocrites is the fact that the outrage was misplaced. I am unaware of any evidence that committing adultery or hiring prostitutes tends to make a person less effective as a governor or official. Many Presidential scholars view the above Presidents favorably. In fact, I find it far more disturbing that someone would reject evolution or play a role in an administration that was plagued by an array of political scandals. Examples of the latter include Hillary’s presence in the administration in which illegal Chinese campaign funds were vacuumed up, the IRS was misused, and the administration sold pardons. Somehow this wanton sleaziness doesn’t disqualify Hillary, but a dalliance with a prostitute disqualifies Spitzer. Her marriage to someone has been plausibly accused of rape (see Newsweek writer Michael Isikoff’s evaluation of Juanita Broaddrick’s charges) apparently doesn’t disqualify her either. The Democrat mantra appears to be that its leaders can have whatever sex they want, even rape-sex, so long as money wasn’t involved. Apparently, that’s just too capitalistic.

Spitzer even had the common decency to not to pursue satisfaction in a public restroom (see Sen. Larry Craig, R-ID) or do meth with her (see pastor Ted Haggard’s affairs with a gay male prostitute). That should have counted for something.

A sad feature of this is how little discussion there has been of the fact that prostitution should be legal. Because persons have moral rights to have sex with whom they want and to give money to whom they choose, the combining of these acts trivially doesn’t violate anyone’s rights. In addition, the transaction involves a person’s right to control her body, precisely the same fundamental right that protects women’s right to an abortion and medical patients’ right not to have medication forced down their throat. In addition, at least one study made it clear that for some women it is not clear that it is an irrational choice. A recent study by Freakonomics author Steven Levitt and sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh found that prostitutes made $27 an hour, although they run serious risks from violence and unprotected sex. The fact that most citizens disapprove of it is no more relevant than is their disapproval of sodomy, the Mormon Church, or drinking on the Sabbath.

Eliot Spitzer was a terrible New York State attorney general and was well on his way to being an equally terrible governor. New Yorkers who voted for him showed the same sort of good sense that has resulted in New York being the 2nd-highest-taxed state in the country and the one with perhaps the most dysfunctional legislature. However, kicking out Spitzer for prostitution was unwarranted. It did, however, point out his hypocrisy and the child-like inconsistency of far too many Democrats.


The Objectivist said...

What I don't understand is why this country has swung so far toward the positions of the most prissy religious housewives.

The drug war has played a large role in putting 1 in 100 Americans in jail. The drinking age is 21 and the drunk driving limit is a hair trigger .08.

The outrage at prostitution is intense whereas obvious and dangerous illegalities in

* the Spitzer Administration's misuse of the police,

* the Clinton Administration's misuse of the police, and

* the Bush administrations to ignore protections against search and seizure and obvious lying on the massive Medicare expansion

get a pass.

The Objectivist said...

This can also be seen in the utter failure among the police to respect any rights against search and seizure.

Random roadblocks to check for seatbelts, despite the fact that this is obviously a search without probable cause and no relation to one person harming another.

There are more police on the road (at $65,000+ first year out in NY) looking for speeders and other largely harmless behavior than is believable.

The safety belt and speeding stops are then used as cover for fishing expeditions looking for drugs, guns, or other in themselves harmless behaviors.

Our bank accounts are regularly searched by computer programs (this what caught Spitzer) despite a lack of probable cause.

Just about everything, e.g., dogs, guns, marriage, and construction now requires a license. As Hugh Lafollette points out, perhaps we should require a license for a couple to have child.

I forgot who said something to the effect that those who trade liberty for safety deserve neither.

But the sort of sissies who back this zero tolerance for non-Judeo-Christian sex deserve the loss of liberty that his being served them.

Jeff said...

I move away from New York state, and this is what happens. Apparently you all can't function without me.

And things are even more interesting, now that David Paterson has admitted to both extra-martial affairs and cocaine use. In fact, some suggest that Paterson may have used government funds for his rendezvous at the Days Inn. It seems like, rationally, the Democrats are going to have to do something about his actions, given how outraged they were about Spitzer. But, I doubt the Democrats want even more attention on them after what happened.

It seems like either way, the credibility of the party is going to take a hit, once again.

"Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor safety." --Benjamin Franklin

(I've also seen this quote attributed to Jefferson, although I'm pretty sure that's an error.)

The Constructivist said...

Definitely a Franklin quotation.

O, I find it interesting that you focus on Democratic Party hypocrisies, especially given that the position you're actually articulating could only find support among Democrats in the two major parties. There's plenty of hypocrisy to go around, given how messed up Republicans tend to be about sex.

In any case, Spitzer wasn't kicked out, he resigned. I think it was a result of his recognition that he had immediately forfeited whatever moral authority he had garnered as a populist anti-corporate crusader by violating laws he had helped put on the books. So there's an obvious contrast with Clinton, who never portrayed himself in those terms, that you ignore. People are more willing to forgive the Great Empathizer than the Grand Inquisitor.

The Objectivist said...

Dear Jeff and C:

Spitzer did resign but my guess is that he was going to get forced out and preferred to leave on his own terms.

I'm not sure that the greater hypocrisy of Spitzer makes the moral difference between the two. Clinton ran on cutting middle class taxes and then raised them (see, e.g., social security tax increases) and this didn't warrant his removal.

As a side note, I don't think Spitzer violated laws that he put on the books, I think the laws (Mann Act and federal banking laws) were independent of him. im.

The Objectivist said...

Jeff and C:
I also don't understand why there isn't more heat over Paterson's misuse of state funds to pay for his mistress.

Given the petty rules against everything these days (e.g., speeding and points, drugs, .08 BAC, and tax laws), I would have expected that he should face more criticism.