Monday, April 21, 2008

Spitzer Redux

I don't relish beating a dead issue, but the Eliot Spitzer scandal requires more clear thinking than the psycho-pundits have given it.

As soon as the story flashed across the media, these experts were out in force to help us to understand. Why would the Governor of New York do something so reckless, and dare we say, immoral.

Their approach involved something I will call the law of intended consequences. It assumes that if an action leads to certain consequences, then that was the person's hidden intention.

If ES got caught, it was because he really wanted to get caught, really wanted to embarrass his family, and really wanted to destroy his career.

Thus, he was not exercising free will and cannot be taxed with unethical behavior. His repressed infantile fantasies made him do it.

Clearly, ES took a risk. Some might call it a foolish risk. And yet, John Kennedy was not destroyed by his multiple dalliances. People idolize him to this day. And Bill Clinton was not destroyed by his numerous affairs. Graphic descriptions of his kitchen habits elicited waves of support and affection. Clinton left office with high approval ratings. He parlayed it into an extremely lucrative post-presidential career. People have not shunned Bill Clinton; they swoon in his presence. (Until recently, that is.)

Now, if you emulate behavior that has been rewarded, how does that make you self-destructive.

Clearly, something in the Spitzer case was different. Perhaps it was because he prosecuted prostitution rings; perhaps it was because he did not have any friends left. Or, just maybe, he thought he was above the law. After all, who is going to prosecute the prosecutor?

Therapists rarely resist their impulse to diagnose. They have declared that ES was a pathological narcissist and sex addict. After all, he had spent $80,000 on call girls over a period of ten years.

If this is true, then his does not resemble anyone else's addiction. Given the fee structure of the escort world, $80,000 over ten years averages out to once every few months. How many alcoholics become addicts by overindulging once every few months?

As for the narcissism, he may have known full well that the law applied to him. But he may have been willing to take the risk. It would not be the first time.

Speaking of the calculus of risk a man who engages a sex worker is surely being more discrete than someone who engages a love affair.

The difference between a 22 year old escort and a 22 year old intern is that the former is being paid to be quiet while the latter is guaranteed to share. A mistress is far more threatening to a marriage than an escort.

A final comment was offered by one Dr. Laura. She declared that ES was frequenting prostitutes because his wife was not servicing his needs.

Say what? Here we have a man whose nickname was "Steamroller" and whose table manners inspired a friend to say: "Watching Eliot eat a piece of chicken is like witnessing a public execution."

I don't believe you have to "grow a vagina"-- in Jessica Coen' phrase-- to know that vulgar manners are not the royal road to coitus.

Besides, a recent article suggested that Mrs. Spitzer knew about the escorts and had accepted them. If it did not bother her, why should it bother anyone else?

The therapy culture has taught us that adultery, among other sins, is an intentional action. We need but unveil the hidden intention and the impulse will be mollified. In the time it takes to do that, the therapist will absolve you of your sins because the devil made you do it.

The alternative is to say that ES made an error of judgment. He miscalculated risk and he paid for it dearly. If the choice was his, the mistake was also his. It happens, but usually not so publicly.

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