Elliot “Client-9” Spitzer; or, Vice as a Political Weapon

Here it is, the second day in the news cycle of the big revelation by The New York Times that my state’s governor, Elliot Spitzer, was another satisfied customer of an elite callgirl service, sufficiently bigwig that his client number could fit into speed dial. (9? Who was 8?) On Day 2, microphones are thrust into the faces of famous talkers of both political persuasions. There’s the Republican who points out the long record of cantankerousness and snarliness throughout this governor’s short term, with the tone that he saw this coming a mile away, and it was only a matter of time before he’d take a spill, like a Shakespearean tragedy. (News 12 from Cablevision last night: you have to be a subscriber to see the page, so no sense linking it. [!]) Then there’s the nominal Democrat, Scott Horton in Harpers, who observes that the Public Integrity Section of the Federal Department of Justice, who may have been on the trail of a money-laundering scheme and arrived unwittingly at this callgirl operation (“Well, looky-looky!”), has a reputation of political motivation.

In the middle are the few who believed, before, during and after this media Spitz-up, that the hallmark of an advanced civilization would be the shedding of laws that make sex for money illegal. It’s particularly disheartening today, since our minority opinion must circle the rhetorical wagons as defenders of the law point to Albany for support of their argument. Even as I do the same for mine.

What makes a good candidate for high office? We know what we wish it took, what it once took: notoriety as a learned person, who had the modesty to delegate to friends and supporters the job of singing of your praises to voters. That citizen-statesman now gets his butt waxed by the professional politician—who does whatever it takes, makes conflicting promises not only with a straight face but with actual conviction, and reacts to seeming downturns with ever greater stamina and determination. In other words (and I only speak here as a representative of my gender here), he’s got testosterone.

Now, I’m not saying this is a good thing. A leader with testosterone, say, a president, now has a button, which can be located and pressed by an enemy, foreign or domestic, who benefits from reactionary White House chaos. (And no, I’m not singling out any administration.)

Back to the issue of the legal status of sex for money. The writers of such laws gave up their seats to new lawmakers who hold the power to repeal those laws tomorrow, but won’t. The existence of the law, or of the practice of prostitution, among the general population isn’t the real issue. It’s the knowledge that people on the other side of that aisle, those whom they target as the enemy every working day, might get caught doing it. And when that happens, they’ve got him!

To observe that this exact strategy is deployed in incoming volleys as well is to miss the point. They’ve both assembled a series of pre-conceived contingency actions in the event the “whore bomb” takes out a few of the faithful, and even, depending on the megatonnage, the target legislator himself, if he’s grown adept at the techniques from term after term of testosterone baths. Each side is trained in the defense drill, as well as the offense when a revelation hits (hey, I didn’t start calling it a “bombshell”).

Yes, if you legalized prostitution, the incoming fire of allegations would cease. But you’d also take that weapon away from your side, too. And that’s a bigger downside. At least it is in the mind of a testosterone-deluded male legislator. You and I may see the symmetry of the effect. But there is no symmetry in Washington.


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