Ruthless Egomania and Sex

NEW SLAUGHTERThe very high moral dudgeon directed at Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner, (but mostly Spitzer) for attempting comebacks is duly noted. Both gentlemen were bad boys. They are also big boys who have thick enough skin to take headline punning, jokes by late night comics and insults hurled at them by yobs on the street as they press the flesh … oh, sorry … “campaign” for a second act, as the media has been describing it.

The Strib picked up John Dickerson’s rant from Slate, in which he writes, “[Spitzer’s] appeal based on forgiveness asks voters to demonstrate a quality he has never shown in public life and which he implicitly promises not to show in the future.  Before Spitzer became known as Client No. 9, he was known for his brash, hardball tactics. As New York’s attorney general, he built a reputation as a fierce opponent of Wall Street, which created a successful platform for his gubernatorial bid. … Spitzer may be asking for forgiveness of his sexual indiscretions, but he’s running on his reputation as attorney general, which was built on ruthlessness.”


Based entirely on what I’ve read  — which is to say that like practically all of us I’ve never met the man and can only try to cull of realistic portrait from the usual heavy-breathing coverage — I accept that Spitzer is a serious piece of work. Rapaciously ambitious. Egomanical. Ruthless. Monomaniacally focused, and vain. Then you get to the softer virtues, which are compromised by all the above, like a shrewd tactical mind, relentless energy and, I’m inclined to believe, a unique determination to apply equal justice to, as Dickerson says, some of the “venerable” masters of Wall Street.

Oscar-winner Alex Gibney’s documentary on the Spitzer story, “Client No. 9″ has its critics. But the film, in my humble opinion, offers more balance and nuance than most of what passes for reporting and expert punditry today. Spitzer’s faults are there for everyone to see, but so also are his legal and political objectives. Did he see aggressive prosecution of heretofore impregnable Wall Street banks, brokerages and insurance titans as a pathway to (much) higher public office? Yes. And who wouldn’t?

Did it mean making potentially lethal enemies with not just some of, but the most influential (i.e. wealthiest) people on the planet? Yes it did, and he was not naive about who he was going up against.

Could all that legal threatening have been a cynical ruse in which he accomplished nothing but looked good enough to be congratulated for the fight? I suppose. Stranger things have happened. But you don’t get that feel from Gibney’s movie or from the titans with whom Spitzer locked horns. They hated the bastard, and said enough publicly and on the record to powerfully suggest they were fighting him off with every tool at their disposal, which when you’re talking AIG, (read this Wall Street Journal commentary — and note the publication date for the raw irony of it all), and Goldman Sachs is every tool any of us can ever imagine.

Dickerson and Spitzer’s other morally aggrieved critics argue that his sin is much more hypocrisy than sex. He was simultaneously prosecuting prostitution rings while dialing up pricey hotties for tension relief. But as Dale Bumpers said defending Bill Clinton in his impeachment trial, “You’re here today because the president suffered a terrible moral lapse, a marital infidelity. Not a breach of the public trust, not a crime against society, the two things Hamilton talked about in Federalist Paper No. 65 — I recommend it to you before you vote — but it was a breach of his marriage vows. It was a breach of his family trust. It is a sex scandal. H.L. Mencken said one time, “When you hear somebody say, ‘This is not about money,’ it’s about money.” And when you hear somebody say, “This is not about sex,” it’s about sex.”

Hypocrisy about sex is still about sex, even as, like Clinton, Spitzer was reckless enough to hand his powerful enemies the sharpest of daggers.

“Sharpest” because I fail to see how Eliot Spitzer’s “violation of the public trust” even begins to compare to the violation done to Americans’ (and damned near everyone else on the planet) actual damned lives by the titans he was attacking. Spitzer is the glowing example of the double standard for public violation. Abuse our quaint-to-voyeuristic concept of sexual propriety and you forever wear the scarlet letter, disqualified from serious consideration for serious work. Abuse our muddled-to-pornographic notions of success and stature and … well, life is a complicated process where the means often have to justify the ends. Or, as the mob likes to say, “It’s just business.”

I continue to say that nothing … nothing … is more important to the pursuit of happiness of everyone from the 90th income percentile down than re-balancing this country’s truly grotesque mal-distribution of wealth. Three successive administrations have either abetted the distortion that continues to expand or have proven feckless at combating it, in each case largely out of fear of counter-strikes from parties at least as influential as the U.S. Justice Department.

Eliot Spitzer — like a half-dozen other prominent politicians I have actually met — is not someone I’d want to be trapped with on a long road trip. But I’m not looking for a drinking buddy in people like that. I just want them to do their damned job. And in prosecutors genuinely protecting “the public trust” I’ll take a ruthless egomaniac (capable of focusing and sustaining public indignation) every day over a cautious, pennies-on-the-dollar conciliator.



27 thoughts on “Ruthless Egomania and Sex

  1. bertram jr. says:

    Ahh, the conflicted mind of the liberal…..let me see if Bertram has the take away:

    “Sex is awesome, everyone should have sex with everyone else all the time, just don’t get caught, unless you hate Wall Street. And besides the sex, the redistribution of income is what I’m really into”.

        1. PM says:

          also, accomplishments.

          BTW, whatever happened to Ashley DuPree? Wasn’t she supposed to become some kind of a columnist with the NY Post?

      1. J Redding says:

        I have no love for Vitter and his ilk, believe me. But there’s a distinction, and Spitzer’s case was more egregious.

        Spitzer was the governor, and bore the executive responsibility to see law administered justly and efficiently. His hypocrisy problem is not the contrast between his public image and his real life, which is the simple hypocrisy problem for most of these fundies. Spitzer’s hypocrisy problem was he was acting exempt from the law while having enormous power to enforce it. No one ever gets a pass on that, not even populists.

        1. I grant you all that, which is why I focus on the raw egomania aspect. But I do wonder what a “second chance” might be like for someone like Spitzer? Does the raw ego compel him to settle for nothing less than full public rehabilitation, which would mean being indisputably effective as NYC’s second most powerful executive (with his eyes obviously on something bigger)? Guys like Vitter and Sanford and Weiner, characters who are also driven by ego but have never demonstrated any particularly purposeful focus on matters of bona fide public-interest, seem to me to be the rule. Is Spitzer an exception? I’m saying an argument can be made.

          Again, cynicism toward anyone who lusts for authority is a healthy thing. All the bastards should demonstrate their bona fides on a daily basis. One time-honored acid test is taking on the biggest, baddest thugs on the block … and in Spitzer’s case, going up against Hank Greenberg of AIG and the Goldman Sachs boys, etc. was picking fights with truly gilded thuggery, a thuggery protected by limitless resources for PR and legal counter attack.

          Spitzer may have pricked the flanks of lions without laying adequate snares, and/or he may have been grandstanding to no reasonable effect. But well before 2008, he was pretty vocal that that gilded crowd was ground zero for fraud.

          Was he wrong?

        2. PM says:


          OK, Vitter was a senator and responsible for writing laws, while Spitzer was a governor and responsible for enforcing laws. Is that distinction the basis for your assertion that Spitzer’s crime was more egregious?

          Or is there more?

  2. PM says:

    Some psychological insight into power and how it “corrupts”:

    specifically relevant to sex and power:

    “Where there’s hypocrisy, infidelity seems to follow. While stories of politician infidelity are high profile and more therefore salient — think Mark Sanford flying to South America to be with a lover while telling aides he was hiking the Appalachian trail, or Arnold Schwarzenegger’s secret son — there is evidence that the powerful are more likely to stray into an affair. In a survey of 1,500 professionals, people higher ranked on a corporate hierarchy were more likely to indicate things like “Would you ever consider cheating on your partner?” on a seven-point scale (this was found true for both men and women).”

    1. Hmmm. That’s a good one. You smell the sense of entitlement on guys like Spitzer — not that I’ve personally smelled a lot of Park Avenue types. But the message in here seems to be that it’s not necessarily a straight line from (obnoxious) entitlement to gross abuse of power. Somewhere along that line is “gross exercise of power”, which I’ll argue is what someone needs to do to exercise actual justice in the affairs of our financial sector. Coming from a Masters of the Universe environment, Spitzer possibly felt less intimidated by that crowd.

  3. Sex, sex sex….I just like saying it. But really, who cares? I don’t care if Spitzer had sex with barnyard animals…ok that might be going a little too far, but what did Spitzer prove? How many successful prosecutions against Greenberg and other “gilded frauds” did he win? Where was the proof of the crimes….other than maybe bad judgement and greed? I think they guy was and is an egomaniac with blunt instrument instincts.

    1. The “proof of the crimes” have not received as much press as Spitzer’s “crimes”, but it is literally impossible five years later to look at the machinations of Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, AIG and others and not see fraud. Several of these giants have already paid out nine figure penalties — rounding errors in their world — for fraud, which usually passes for “proof of crimes”. That the most senior of the perpetrators haven’t been touched personally by prosecution says more about who owns who in the banking-political relationship than their actual guilt. The old silly nattering about Barney Frank and Freddie Mac lacks any level of credibility. If you’re interested in a broader/deeper view of Spitzer’s career and the wrath of those he targeted I suggest renting “Client 9”.,0,415827.story

      1. Well, all and good Brian, but most of the cases he pursued that involved individuals like Richard Grasso and Hank Greenberg were dropped or not pursued for lack of prosecutorial evidence, never mind that he smeared them publicly. Furthermore, the insurance giant AIG made many of its doomed mortgage bets after Greenberg left, having been fired by a board that Spitzer threatened to indict. That worked out well for shareholders. Meanwhile, Greenberg is making a comeback, as Spitzer is trying to mount his. Let’s face it. Spitzer is power hungry and abused the powers granted to him, using the New York state police to dig up political dirt on an opponent and threatening people who wrote opinion pieces defending Greenberg. How cool! Thus my blunt instrument comment. The guy was positioning himself for higher office by any means necessary.

        1. Mike: You’re of course free to regard Hank Greenberg as a saintly figure. That image has been under serious attack from many quarters. But the Grasso compensation case … well, if that guy wasn’t overpaid — by a compensation board he regulated — I don’t know that any CEO, “non-profit” or not, can ever be touched for “excess”.

          Here’s the Harvard Law School on the matter:

          As noted, the Appellate Division rendered the coup de grâce on July 1. It held as to the two remaining causes of action against Mr. Grasso that when the NYSE merged into a for-profit entity on March 7, 2006, any standing the attorney general might have had to bring claims under the N-PCL ended. As noted above, Justice Ramos had addressed the merger and reached the opposite conclusion. Until the July 1 decision of the Appellate Division, neither of the appellate courts had mentioned the merger as having a consequence to the standing of the attorney general.

          Thus, the Appellate Division and the Court of Appeals did not even “get close” to the issue of whether Mr. Grasso’s compensation was reasonable or reasonably determined. Some may say that behind the courts’ decisions may have been issues other than those suggested by their opinions as to the attorney general’s standing.

          One explanation may lie in the March 2008 downfall of Mr. Spitzer, the initiator of the litigation. His aggressive attacks on financial service companies and executives employed by them, for example, destroyed careers and cost some of those companies dearly. Mr. Spitzer’s personal downfall occurred in March 2008, while governor. No doubt, the continuance of this litigation, in a very troubled economic environment for the country, including financial centers like New York, must have seemed an especially undesirable legal intervention at this particular time.

          A second reason for the abrupt dispatch of the Spitzer/Grasso litigation certainly must have been the reluctance of courts to be the arbiters of reasonable compensation. As said by the Court of Appeals at the end of its decision on June 25:

          [E]ach of the challenged causes of action against [Mr.] Grasso seeks to ascribe liability based on the size of his compensation package. The Legislature, however, enacted a statute requiring more. The Attorney General may not circumvent that scheme, however unreasonable that compensation may seem on its face. To do so would tread on the Legislature’s policy-making authority. People v. Grasso, No. 120, 2008 N.Y. LEXIS 1821, at *14 (N.Y. June 25, 2008).

          Do you sense timorousness in that decision?

          1. I don’t regard Greenberg as saintly. However, I also don’t condone a sledgehammer approach based on threats and intimidation as being worthy of admiration. Mr. Spitzer simply could have made his case without all the grandstanding and obvious lust for power and attention (not to mention lust for smokin hot hookers). He turned out to be, again, more of a blunt instrument than a good lawyer. Failing to turn over evidence to the defense, as he did in the Marsh case, is, as Ray Donovan says “fuckin amateur hour.”

            1. Really, an $850 million settlement for bid-rigging is “amateur hour”? More to the point, given the near complete lack of prosecution, effective or otherwise, of some of the very same characters Spitzer was targeting for fraud 10 years ago, I’m kind of inclined to let “grandstanding” — as in sustaining high public interest — take such cases where they may. Moral hazard should include shareholders feeling the penalties for fraudulent activity on their behalf. It might have a cleansing effect.

            2. Just to reiterate, Mike. I’m not saying Spitzer isn’t an insufferable asshole. My point is that he took on the biggest thugs on the block and squeezed some significant dough out of some of them. Who else can claim that? I tend to believe it takes all kinds to make the world go ’round, and that includes people who are personally odious to lay siege to the powerful and normally impregnable.

  4. Jed Leyland says:

    “The man of thought who will not act is ineffective; the man of action who will not think is dangerous.”
    ― Richard M. Nixon

    1. PM says:


      those really are some good quotes…although some of them seem to be rather at odds with Nixon’s actions as President (how much thinking went into his decision to bug/burgle the DNC when they really never had a chance in the 1972 race?).

      maybe Nixon would have done better to become a man of thought….

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