Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Wagging the Dog

Yesterday the New York Times broke the story about NY Governor Eliot Spitzer's alleged involvement with a prostitute in a Washington hotel room. From what we know, this information resulted from a federal wire tap. Spitzer, going by the name "Client 9," was recorded in a telephone call in which he allegedly ordered the girl in mid-February.

Am I the only one that finds it curious that the FBI and IRS, under the authority of a 98-year old law, are expending untold amounts of federal taxpayer money to investigate a high-class prostitution ring? Why is it that said prostitution ring just happened to count Eliot Spitzer among its clients, and why is Spitzer the first (and perhaps only?) name announced in connection with it? Given that this prostitution ring operated out of New York and apparently serviced D.C., surely there are business titans and other politicos involved. Aren't their names worthy of disclosure?

It seems rather clear to me - Spitzer pissed off a lot of wealthy, powerful people and those people wanted to make sure he paid. His crackdown on Wall Street was maverick; his pursuit of payola and the major record labels/radio stations involved was damn near suicidal. However, he did both because they were the right things to do.

I have admired Spitzer from afar for both of these matters; he seemed willing to do what no other member of the executive or legislative branch had the stomach for. He conducted himself as though he was beholden to no one other than the people. He did more good for this country on behalf of the state of New York than most people will ever know.

And now media outlets throughout the country are calling for his head, as are, of course, the Republicans. Is it any wonder that the news media so vehemently calling for his resignation also felt, directly or indirectly, the sting of his investigations in his previous life in the attorney general's office?

Something about this whole mess stinks - it's reminiscent of the Tennessee Waltz investigation in my home state a couple of years ago, where a number of Democratic state legislators were wrapped up in a bribery sting. Details are somewhat sketchy; a fake company was set up and law makers were induced into taking bribes to vote on legislation benefiting the fake company. I never learned exactly why the investigation was launched, or by whom. However, what I do know is that it was conducted by the FBI and some very prominent Democrats fell from grace as a result.

I am by no means excusing Spitzer's actions. However, I'm also realistic enough to know that politicians will be politicians. Absent being a murderer, rapist, drunk driver, Ken Lay, or other serious criminal whose actions impact the lives of others, I don't really give a damn. It sounds cliche, but what Spitzer does on his own time is his own business. While I question the circumstances and methods of Tennessee Waltz, bribery is a violation of the official's office and directly impacts the people. Having sex with a prostitute, however, is 100% personal and, in the grand scheme of things, a modest transgression; the consequences of its disclosure will do unfathomable harm to him personally and to his family. He will pay a hefty price where a price should be paid - at home.

However, how does this impact him professionally? Why is it that we're so quick to toss Spitzer out on his ear, and yet the very real criminal happenings at the White House and in other areas of the executive branch aren't even mentioned in the same breath as resignation?

Consider this US News blog posting, which identifies all the stories regarding Spitzer, most of which point to his unfitness and inability to continue to serve, and then the next story is entitled, "Democrats Sue For Bush Aides' Testimony." This article is about the Democrats trying to get at the heart of some U.S. Attorney firings. Not coincidentally, the judge set to hear the case is a Bush appointee and also heard the case brought in an attempt to reveal documents pertaining to Cheney's secret energy planning meetings (ruled in favor of the VP). Oh yeah, and this same judge is also a member of the FISA court. All three of these topics involve very, very serious breaches of the public trust, violations of law that go to the core of this country's existence, and the only head to role has been Alberto Gonzalez, and even it had to be hacked and sawed and twisted for months before it came loose.

[Speaking of FISA, I wonder if the warrant the FBI obtained to wiretap Spitzer's phone was issued as a part of the FISA process; if the FBI engaged in its dragnet form of listening in, found the goods, then asked FISA to permit its investigation going forward.]

Spitzer, a politician who actually did some measurable good in his time, will likely get swept to the side by the drumbeat of the old guard, all under the guise of restoring honor and integrity to public office; in reality, all we will have done is extinguished one of the brightest and most ardent public advocates that American politics has seen in 40 years. Like MLK, JFK and his baby brother, Bobby, we'll never know what great things this country could have accomplished.