Spitzer’s Unforgivable Character Flaw: Hypocrisy

SpitzerElliott Spitzer has lately managed to make everyone think that his biggest fault was having sex with hookers. He taps into American willingness to forgive sexual indiscretions of politicos. What he has gotten people to forget is that he is a hypocrite, a character flaw that is disqualifying and unforgivable.

Spitzer resigned the New York governorship only in part because he violated laws against solicitation of prostitution.   Many find such laws contestable and transgressions minor, after all, even when married middle-aged men regularly have sex with girls younger than their daughters over a period of several years.

More important is the other reason Spitzer resigned in disgrace: criminal evasion of federal banking laws.  Spitzer wired the payments for his sex, in aggregate involving large amounts of money, while concealing evidence of its source.  That is a violation of federal  law.  His bank filed suspicious activity reports with federal overseers as federal law requires.  Federal authorities stumbled upon these when investigating the prostitution ring Spitzter had patronized for many years. That triggered his downfall.

During his term as New York attorney general, Spitzer had acted as a crusader against any form of lawbreaking. He particularly despised financial shenanigans that complied with technical aspects of laws but bent them out of shape.  When we found out that he committed just that kind of legal violation, he was exposed as a hypocrite.  That is a character flaw. 

Spitzter can ask forgiveness and redemption for cheating on his wife and scarring his children.  Many Americans and New Yorkers will be fine with such.  While I object vehemently to the unethical practices Spitzer displayed while serving as attorney general, some people even now  applaud his zealotry when prosecuting and investigating financial powerhouses and rich and powerful individuals. But hypocrisy is a character flaw that cannot be forgiven or redeemed. I would not trust such a man to be dog catcher let alone put in charge of a city’s financial affairs.

New Yorkers would do well to recall this passage from the 2010 book by Peter Elkind about the disgraced politician (pp. 259-260):

Spitzer’s entire political strategy was based on his projection of an image as a moralist.   That he broke numerous laws, so furtively and mischievously, to engage in extramarital sex with young women blew his cover. He was not what he portrayed himself to be. At best, he was a hypocrite. His tactics in the cases he brought underscored that he was not, in fact, the devotee of the rule of law or proponent of justice he and his media friends projected. But in their zeal to condemn, Spitzer and his fans overlooked many principles of legal ethics designed to prevent prosecutors from harassing citizens and unfairly or wantonly destroying reputations. 

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4 Responses

  1. Brett Bellmore says:

    There’s something troubling about making hypocrisy the ultimate sin: The best way to insulate yourself against charges of hypocrisy is to lack any principles.

    Personally, I prefer that vice at least feel the need to pay tribute to virtue, rather than be so bold as to deny that tribute.

  2. Lawrence Cunningham says:

    Brett: Sounds okay in the abstract, though not sure it changes my view of the Spitzer situation, given the facts.

  3. Ken Rhodes says:

    I don’t think Lawrence has identified hypocrisy as a “sin.” Rather, I think, he has identified hypocrisy as a “character flaw” which would disqualify Spitzer for any public position of trust.

    Some may think that making a distinction between “sin” and “character flaw” is pedantic. I do not. A “sin” is an action which is immoral. Sins are routinely “repented” by the sinner and “forgiven” by the victims/peers.

    Character flaws, OTOH, are attributes, not actions. So I agree with Lawrence that this attribute of Spitzer’s disqualifies him.

  4. Litigator says:

    Great post, Lawrence.