The histories of men and women, like the histories of nations, can be tragedy, comedy, or farce, and often all three. We must wait for the final act to pass judgment, as tempting as it may be to let fly at once. At the moment, Eliot Spitzer is merely another politician exposed with feet of clay, an enlarged ego, an overzealous libido, and the power and money to finance his self-destruction. This postmodern morality is gone with the speed of the Internet, but his resignation is not the final word.
If he truly wants to atone for his betrayal of public and private trust, there's still time to redeem himself. There's ample precedent (and instructions) in life and literature for redressing personal flaws. Judgment depends not on the depths to which a person falls from grace, but how genuine his remorse. Moral insight offers transforming power.
Gov. Spitzer, who becomes an ex-governor this morning (March 17), joins a crowded pantheon of smart guys who risked all for the transient pleasures of the flesh. But Spitzer is neither Antony nor Abelard, and his doxy "Kristen" bears no resemblance to either Cleopatra or Heloise. Purchased erotic adventures in the skin trade are particularly tawdry, no matter how much they cost. When Henry Kissinger spoke of power as an "aphrodisiac," he knew he was the honeycomb.
But the Spitzer story is an emblematic tale of our time and we're complicit in the telling of it. Ours is an age of omniscient voyeurism, where images of others in trouble constantly whet an insatiable appetite for more, more, more. Distinctions and boundaries are continually blurred.
How pathetic, for example, to watch Dina Matos McGreevey, whose former husband was forced to resign as Governor of New Jersey when his homosexual liaison with one of his staff was exposed, go on television to "commiserate" with Silda Spitzer. Naturally, McGreevey had a book to sell. She said she "stood by her man" at the podium when he confessed all only "for her daughter's sake." (Was she thinking of her daughter when she brought it all back to the public again?) We've lost the sense of the sacred that comes from reticence.
"I go forward with the belief, as others have said, that as human beings, our greatest glory consists not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall," Spitzer said in his resignation speech. That's a difficult task for someone who worked so hard to knock others down, but it's a worthy one. We can hope that he and we are spared the usual psychobabble about "sexual addiction" which accompanies the vocabulary of "healing." We don't need to watch a parade of his remorse.
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