Classic David Brooks column today that puts the Eliot Spitzer matter in a broader context without ever mentioning Spitzer’s name (though much of what he says could apply to Bill Clinton, needless to say). It gets at the heart of something that has long fascinated and worried me--namely, the often shriveled souls of too many people in public life. I used to observe, living in Sacramento, perfectly nice people who would get elected to the state legislature, and then turn into egotistical jerks. I used to speculate that there was some kind of electronic booth in the basement of the capitol building that looked like an airport metal detector--I called it the "A**hole Booth"--where freshmen legislators would be made to pass through on their first day on the job. In especially egregious cases, I would remark, "He went through the booth twice!"
But then, gradually, some cruel cosmic joke gets played on them. They realize in middle age that their grandeur is not enough and that they are lonely. The ordinariness of their intimate lives is made more painful by the exhilaration of their public success. If they were used to limits in public life, maybe it would be easier to accept the everydayness of middle-aged passion. . .
I don’t know if you’ve seen a successful politician or business tycoon get drunk and make a pass at a woman. It’s like watching a St. Bernard try to French kiss. It’s all overbearing, slobbering, desperate wanting. There’s no self-control, no dignity.
These Type A men are just not equipped to have normal relationships. All their lives they’ve been a walking Asperger’s Convention, the kings of the emotionally avoidant. Because of disuse, their sensitivity synapses are still performing at preschool levels.
This puts me in mind of one of my favorite passages from The Education of Henry Adams:
The effect of power and publicity on all men is the aggravation of self; a sort of tumor that ends by killing the victim’s sympathies; a diseased appetite, like a passion for strong drink or perverted tastes; one can scarcely use expressions too strong to describe the violence of egotism it stimulates."
I often find myself trying to convey to students that this kind of hazard is of equal important to the principles of democratic government.