Sunday, March 16, 2008
Spitzer and Shakespeare
Once more a personal tragedy of Shakespearean proportions unfolds before our eyes, this time in the downfall of Eliot Spitzer, governor of New York and potential future candidate for yet loftier offices.
One of the reasons William Shakespeare remains the world’s greatest playwright after 500 years is because his plots describe the most intense machinations of the human spirit and his characters are complex and fascinating. And every once in a while something Shakespearean happens right in front of us. Trouble is, we need to take a step back to recognize it because these events don’t come with opening credits, trailers or soundtracks.
Eliot Spitzer was New York’s attorney general for eight years. He was moralistic, driven and seemingly fearless as he battled high-flying financial bosses and investment firms. The media called him “the sheriff of Wall Street.” Eliot Spitzer went after corporate corruption, street crime and prostitution rings and they called him “Mr. Clean.” He was destined for big things.
Now we see Eliot Spitzer in front of the news cameras with his shattered wife and crumbling career as he apologizes for something unspecified. But we soon learn of his years of patronizing expensive prostitutes, the $80,000 he spent on his whores, even his demands that he won’t wear a condom during his luxury-hotel trysts.
As we ponder Eliot Spitzer’s dark side, it’s easy to recall another recent moral hypocrite – though one far sleazier and less Shakespearean – in the person of U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, the Idaho Republican known for his homophobic rants against same-sex marriages, especially in advocating the Defense of Marriage amendment to the Constitution. A standard bearer for arch-conservatives throughout the land, Craig was arrested last June for trying to hustle the man sitting in the next stall in an airport men’s room. After that, a number of Idaho men went on record about having had sex with the senator.
Of course Larry Craig is just one of a long line of Congressmen– some gay, most straight – whose political careers were mortally wounded by their penises, such as U.S. Sen. Mark Foley of Florida, U.S. Sen. Bob Packwood of Oregon, U.S. Sen. Brock Adams of Washington, U.S. Rep. Robert Bauman of Maryland, U.S. Rep. Dan Crane of Illinois, U.S. Rep.Wayne Hays of Ohio and U.S. Rep. Wilbur Mills of Arkansas. But these are all bit players compared to the sexual irresponsibility of Bill Clinton and his Oval Office “relations” with young Monica in her blue dress.
So when you tire of the pundits, experts, analysts and commentators giving you their take on why our moralistic politicians sometimes undo their own careers, feel free to turn off your television and turn to Richard III, Othello, Hamlet, and King Lear for some truly ageless insight.
(For a fascinating description of the days and hours leading up to Eliot Spitzer’s “apology,” click here.)