The Magazine

Character Is Destiny

Client 9 crashes and burns.

Mar 24, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 27 • By FRED SIEGEL and MICHAEL GOODWIN
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Con men, of course, are not unique to politics. Business produced the Enron crowd, religion gave us Jimmy Swaggart, and Jayson Blair proved that journalists are capable of the big con. Spitzer's con was different only in his chosen field. He knew how to play on the desires of his victims and succeeded because the voters, the unions, the special interest groups, and the liberal media were willing victims.

At different times he presented himself as a centrist Democrat, as a progressive Democrat, and as a conservative Democrat. He was none of the above. Positions and policies didn't matter to him. He was in it for the game itself, as though debates over public policy and legislation were like chess matches or touch football. As Congressman Charlie Rangel put it, Spitzer always thinks he's the "smartest man in the room."

Spitzer had reason to think he would never be called to account. He was elected attorney general by breaking the campaign finance laws and then lying about it (as we noted in THE WEEKLY STANDARD of August 20, 2007). After making his reputation by exposing double dealing at brokerage firms like Merrill Lynch, Spitzer began to use leaks and, ironically, sexual innuendo to force firms to pay huge settlements or face a public trial at the hands of an enraptured media.

When Spitzer went after New York Stock Exchange president Richard Grasso for what the attorney general saw as an excessively generous buyout package, he refused to criticize fellow Democrat Carl McCall, the former New York State comptroller and the man most responsible for the Grasso package. That alone should have raised red flags, but it didn't.

It wasn't until July 2007, when the New York Post's Fred Dicker broke the first stories on Spitzer's attempt to use the state police to bring down a Republican political rival, Senate majority leader Joe Bruno, that the already manifest problems with Spitzer's character began to draw widespread attention. That scandal has still not been resolved because Spitzer has never been forced to testify despite the Albany district attorney empaneling a grand jury to sort out the mess.

In August, we noted in these pages that Spitzer, "is already damaged politically, perhaps beyond repair. Any new sordid details could finish him. With his reputation shredded and his administration under fire, he is now in desperate need of a savior himself."

The con has been revealed and the crusader is beyond redemption. Some of his old supporters on the left, wallowing in their glorious hopes for him, are calling Spitzer's fall a tragedy. They are wrong. Tragedy requires an initial nobility of purpose.

Michael Goodwin, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, is a columnist for the New York Daily News and a contributor to CNN. Fred Siegel, a contributing editor of City Journal, is a professor at the Cooper Union for Science & Art.