Paul Greenberg

Hu-bris - from the Greek - overweening pride or self-confidence; arrogance. -Webster's

Americans now have one more definition of hubris: Eliot (Ness) Spitzer, the crusading attorney general, scourge of Wall Street, nemesis of corporate titans, and, as of today, former governor of New York. And, oh yes, former superdelegate to the Democratic National Convention.

A "colossus of New York state politics," the "Almanac of American Politics" called Eliot Spitzer. Now, if Webster's needs an illustration to go alongside its definition of hubris, it can run his picture.

Tell it in Gotham, publish it in the New York Times: How the mighty have fallen. It's an old, old story, yet somehow it keeps being news. In our garish times, it's front-page, 24/7, prime-time, blogged and internetted news. The story may be old, but our age specializes in supersized, capital-H Humiliation.

Eliot Spitzer isn't the first high-powered pol to talk - and act - as if he were invulnerable, throwing threats around the way the way we ordinary mortals breathe in and out. He's only the latest. "Listen, I'm a steamroller," as he once told a leading legislator in Albany.

The man acted as if he were untouchable; a decent sense of self-restraint, of moral humility, of simple proportion, was for others. To quote Peter King, the Republican congressman from a Long Island district: "I've never known anyone who was more self-righteous and unforgiving than Eliot Spitzer." Now he's been brought low by a cheap sex scandal, however expensive his tastes.

The list of Eliot Spitzer's prosecutorial targets would compose a Who's Who of American business. Some royally deserved their comeuppance, but many didn't. Yet they were all caught in the same net. Those he couldn't convict, he would force into expensive settlements. Reputations were ruined, corporations destroyed. Eliot Spitzer was an equal-opportunity bully. Anyone who stood up to him could expect to be threatened.

When the former chairman of Goldman Sachs - John C. Whitehead - wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal critical of the crusading prosecutor, he says he got a phone call Mr. Spitzer. "I will be coming after you," Mr. Whitehead says he was told. "You will pay the price."

Now it is Eliot Spitzer who is paying the price. Fate, or the gods, or maybe just the nature of man has caught up with him. Pride - overweening, arrogant and very human pride - has gone before another fall. From another great height.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.