By: Lisa Wexler
I’d like to have a dollar for every politician who got caught with his pants down, from Gary Hart to Bill Clinton to Robert Livingston to Wilbur Mills (anyone still remember Fannie Foxx?). For a primer on ego massage as an art form, just look at John Edwards, whose closest confidant publicly tarnished his own reputation to cover up the sins of his boss. In the old days, pols knew that if they got caught, they were done. Public embarrassment would finish their public careers. Shame is a real downer. Today some pundits and pollsters will have you believe that the world has changed- that we have come so far in our morally lenient society that we will now make room for Wiener and Spitzer to take their place as our elected representatives, now that they have formally confessed their sins. Don’t believe it. Not only will they not win, each will spectacularly lose.
Remember The Court of Public Opinion, whose measure used to be gauged by editorial writers and is now better calibrated by twitter followers? The Court would tell the egomaniac, “Sorry, fella, you blew it “ (so to speak). No more elections for you. Consultancies, board positions, speaking engagements? Maybe. But public elections? Over. Why? Because we are a curious people, we descendants of Puritans and Pilgrims. We like to think that our public officials behave with integrity in and out of office. We like to think they keep their promises to those they supposedly hold dearest. Cavorting with hookers just doesn’t jive, not here in America.
Then came Mark Sanford, the Republican governor forced from grace for cheating with his new soulmate. (Out with the old soulmate, the one who bore him 4 beautiful kids.) . In Sanford’s comeback to Congress, he faced tough competition from a Democrat whose brother gave her instant, national name recognition. But districts are gerrymandered for a reason, and nothing could stop a Republican from taking his rightful seat in a South Carolina district. Forced to choose between adultery or abortion, those voters choose adultery every time. And remember Sanford was an unusual case. He actually plans on marrying his mistress. How many adults do you know that have made a better match the second time around? I know plenty. I could see why the voters would cut him some slack.
Emboldened by Sanford’s win, in comes Anthony Wiener, shockingly inserting himself into the New York Mayoral race, after a sex scandal that notably lacked in actual sex. Wiener is a different kind of creep. Wiener is every parent’s nightmare, the guy that stalks your naïve, gullible and curious teenage girl into thinking there is a guy out there who really likes her. The next thing you know she is sexting her breasts in exchange for his bulging underwear. How this guy believes any actual voter is going to pull the lever for him is incredible to me. Wiener, to follow in the footsteps of Koch, GuiIiani and Bloomberg? Preposterous. I simply do not believe any polls that show the public willing to vote for Wiener. If anything, I believe Wiener’s presence will increase the turnout of people who can’t wait to vote against him.
Now Elliott Spitzer is trying to gather enough signatures by Thursday to get on the ballot for New York City Comptroller. Spitzer is the former New York State governor who was forced to resign after being exposed as the infamous “Client #9” in a prostitution ring. The Feds estimate Spitzer spent up to 80 grand on hookers in the last two or three years before he got caught. Another skinny guy with a different kind of appetite. His wife Silva was not there for this latest announcement, and is reported to be living apart from her husband, contrary to her stalwart presence during the scandal. Yes, even though Spitzer broke the law himself, he believes the public needs him to take on the bad guys. We are supposed to forget that prostitution goes hand in hand with sexual slavery, that thousands of young women are coerced, drugged and forced into lives of misery and degradation, that by his example, Spitzer sent a message that being a prostitute was somehow “okay”. And if Spitzer were to actually win, you know he would turn the Office of the Comptroller into a rival for the Office of the Mayor. Can you just see him now, squeezing the levers of power as he did when he was attorney general, using the threat of a lawsuit to force settlements of millions of dollars from taxpayers who neither admitted nor denied any guilt? Not to worry, he isn’t going to get the chance.
What is most fascinating about these men is that neither Wiener nor Spitzer has actually rehabilitated himself in any meaningful way during their absence from public office. Wiener spent his time using his wife’s connections to secure work as a highly-paid consultant so that those who hired him could ask his wife for favors later on. Spitzer stayed in the public eye as a television commentator, a narcissistic enterprise that had no public impact whatsoever. Is there any compelling reason to vote for either one of these men? Absolutely not.
We keep hearing about name recognition, as if we voters are so stupid that we can never learn another name on a ballot, as if we will only vote for the guy whose name we recognize. That’s ridiculous. We can learn Catsimitidis and Thompson, MacDonald, Llota and Quinn, Albanese, Deblasio and Springer. Unlike those people, Wiener and Spitzer got the chance to prove their worth. They failed. Why should we let them try again? We aren’t bereft of able citizens who will serve with decency and integrity. Give those people a chance. Spitzer and Wiener apparently don’t get the old cliche “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me”. They feel no shame. But when the Syracuse Post- Standard’s editorial board asked Governor Andrew Cuomo what he thought when he first heard of Wiener’s quest to become New York City mayor, Cuomo said “Shame on Us”. He got it right. Second time, shame on us.