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.
There is the chicken and egg question here. Are most politicians normal guys and gals before they get power? Some might be, but perhaps other are not.
Perhaps this is why a citizen-legislature worked pretty well for most of our country's history. Being a representative or senator was a part-time job. They had real jobs back home.
Now they are professionals or, perhaps they think they have become the ruling class.
Just my $.02
As the old Greek guy said, Power shows the man. Hasn't changed a bit in two-and-a-half millenia.
Spitzer's wife (who is 2 years older than him) is quite attractive; could her physical company have palled that much?
I suspect that the lust for power that was obvious in Spitzer's public career was a, if not the, major driver here: He probably got off on the idea that he could, simply by paying money (of which he's got lots without ever having had to work for it), have a woman at his beck and whim. Interestingly, a report on "Slate" the other day by a journalist who has extensively interviewed people in the NYC sex trade reported his conclusion that as many as 40% of the encounters in the high-end "escort" market there end with little more than kissing. It seems that a fair portion of these well-heeled (and probably often older) johns mainly want the attention and undemanding companionship of a younger woman, without necessarily demanding actual sex to go with it.
But I don't think that describes Spitzer. BTW, is anybody else feeling really creeped out by the age difference (26 years) between The Luv Guv and the runaway and (self-identified) abuse survivor "Kristen"?