I'm pretty cynical when it comes to politicians. I don't look for moral leadership or role models. I don't expect elected officials to set some kind of moral example over and above what I'd expect from the guy who changes my oil or the person who handles my transaction at Target. I won't refuse to vote for a person because he or she cheats on their spouse; I will refuse to vote for them on one basis and one basis only: whether or not I agree with their policy objectives. That's it. If my choice in an election is between a philandering Democrat and a steadfast Republican, I'll almost always choose the Democrat.
There's one proviso to this, though: I can't stand hypocrisy. This is why I tend to be more nauseated when the Larry Craigs of the world are caught with their hands in the cookie jar: not because I'm offended at what they did, but because their actions make clear that the way they publicly profess we all should live our lives isn't the way they think they should have to live their lives. William Bennett, the great moral crusader who has made his own little cottage industry pratting on about virtue and morality in American life? Whatever...until he turns out to be a gambler.
And Elliot Spitzer. Mr. Law-and-Order, crusader for the little guy. Everything was going to change on Day One. He was going to cut taxes, fix state government, reform Medicaid, finally start making New York work again. This he campaigned to do, on the basis of his tenure as Attorney General, during which he prosecuted corporations for Wall Street shenanigans, and during which he struck against prostitution rings. Caught with a prostitute.
The man's a hypocrite. He was already a disappointment as Governor, failing to accomplish much of anything at all: government spending continues to rise, Spitzer's own political instincts suddenly seemed made of tin, and more than a year into his term as Governor, absolutely nothing has changed in New York. And now he turns out to be a rank hypocrite. The former prosecutor who made hay against prostitution turns out to be a customer.
Like I said, I don't look for moral leadership from my political figures. I've long since outgrown the pleasant notion of our leaders as George Washington types, the "Father, I cannot tell a lie" stuff. I don't look for inspiration from political leaders, unless it's the inspiration that comes from the accomplishment of positive results. So when Spitzer was elected, I wasn't caught up in a massive groundswell of hope.
And the man still disappointed me.
Governor, you need to resign. It's over. You're done. You could have changed things for the better, but you didn't. You had the political will behind you, and you had the mood of the state behind you. And yet you frittered that away on a stupid scheme to take down your political opponents, your budgets which kept the numbers ticking ever ever upward, your refusal to take on unpopular groups like the New York State Thruway Authority, your total failure to present any new ideas at all in the time you've had in office.
And you paid for sex in a state where that is illegal, after you've prosecuted others for the same. The game's over. Time to let the next guy in. Maybe he can get things done where you and your predecessors could not.
Who knows, maybe New York will finally get lucky, and the day of Elliot Spitzer's resignation will be the real Day One, when things actually start to change. Somehow I doubt it, but I can always hope, can't I?