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Spitzer Schadenfreude

Critics of Eliot Spitzer have had the pleasure of watching the former New York Attorney General and now Governor get a dose of his own medicine.

Critics of Eliot Spitzer have had the pleasure of watching the former New York Attorney General and now Governor get a dose of his own medicine.Current New York Attorney general and fellow Democrat Andrew Cuomo found that Spitzer's office misused state power to discredit political rival, Joseph L. Bruno, the Republican New York State Senate majority leader. As a result, the State Ethics Commission has begun a preliminary review of Spitzer's administration.

As the New York Times reports:

Mr. Cuomo's report concluded that the governor's staff had broken no laws but misused the State Police to gather information about Mr. Bruno in an effort to plant a negative story about him. The governor, a Democrat, has maintained that he was misled by his staff and knew nothing about the effort to discredit Mr. Bruno, the state's top Republican. He has also said his staff was fully cooperative, even though two of his top aides, Mr. Dopp and Richard Baum, the secretary to the governor, refused to be interviewed at the direction of the governor's counsel, instead providing brief sworn statements.

Many commentators have referred to the matter as evidence that Spitzer can no longer vaunt a "squeaky-clean" image, but most call attention to what they characterize as Spitzer's cynical dealings on campaign-finance in which he allegedly "exchanged pork and pay raises" for desired legislation, along with a laundry list of questionable behavior, including sweet deals and sinecures for campaign sponsors in the real estate industry, in which the Spitzer family is a player.

In some cases when a figure with the reputation of a reformer is seen to go bad, the narrative is one of goodness souring into corruption. But in the case of Spitzer, his most vehement critics see his actions as more of the same: an arrogant man, full of himself, above the limits placed on others, taking himself as his own exemplar, identifying his ego with his office(s) and blithely abusing power on the rationale that when he does it, it's for the good.

Spitzer, such critics might assert, could be adduced as Exhibit A in an American legal system where prosecutors are granted extraordinary powers to intimidate to a degree verging on blackmail, undermining the traditional protections of the accused under common law. By gaining the cooperation of the intimidated, decent people can be cast as criminal villains and careers can be destroyed, critics argue. Even if such maneuvers are done in the interest of the public good, such abuse of power is more sinister than much of the trimming and petty corruption it pretends to address. If it is done in small or great measure to advance the careers of prosecutors, it is perhaps more sinister still.

Spitzer has been very effective intimidating his victims and potential victims to get results without necessarily uncovering any law breaking. In cases where his victims do gain some measure of vindication, it's a case of too little too late, and it certainly doesn't get the same media attention as the charges that soiled their reputations.

Now, to some extent at least, the worm has turned, and it is Spitzer himself who is under scrutiny and subject to imputations that call his professional and personal character into question. Consider the following characterization in the deck of a piece in Investor's Business Daily entitled "Richard Milhous Spitzer":

New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and the one president ever forced to resign seem to have a lot in common. But at least Nixon waited a little while before using the tools of state against his political enemies.

Now the onus is on Spitzer to demonstrate that he is as clean and virtuous as billed and not given to abuses of power limited only by the resources of the office he happens to hold.

Posted by Anthony O'Donnell

Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek Financial Services of TechWeb he has written on all areas of information ... View Full Bio

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