by Jim Sleeper
New York Governor Eliot Spitzer's fall from office and public grace in 2008 was a tragedy in the strictest classical sense: The substance of his offenses paled before the shock of his stupidity and hypocrisy in committing them. You had to worry even more about his mentality than about his morality.
What made the fall so stunning was not his infidelity and how he committed it but the sheer folly of one as tough and experienced as he'd proven himself to be in pursuit of others' far-more-consequential wrongdoings.
That very toughness and experience made his tragedy a public one, because New Yorkers and all Americans at that time needed a real fighter -- one as good as Spitzer was on offense as well as defense -- against the casino-finance, corporate-welfare regime that would soon throw millions of people out of their homes and jobs.
When I first met and wrote about Spitzer in 1995 as a columnist for the New York Daily Newsm he was no raging, anti-capitalist radical. He wasn't even what you'd call a model civil-libertarian: He co-chaired the advisory board of the American Alliance for Rights and Responsibilities, which was pushing for legal reforms to balance citizens' rights with some new requirements that they meet certain responsibilities. (I cited examples of such cases in the Daily News column.)
Spitzer's fall 13 years later came from his failure to meet his own responsibilities by patronizing a high-end escort service that he, of all people, had to know was on the wrong side of the law in more ways than one. But a long-forgotten irony in that debacle reminds us why we still need a fighter like Spitzer all the more now. It's that some of his inquisitors in the Bush Justice Department were as guilty of malfeasance in Spitzer's case as he was himself, and partly because they were serving moneyed, partisan interests that feared him.