Like many others, I followed the rise and fall of Eliot Spitzer. Like many others, I asked the age-old question, "Why would someone who has so much to lose, do what he did?" I got my answer to that question in the March 15th Time Magazine. The answer is, quite simply, that although he is adept at feeling sorry for himself, the former financial crusader is completely bankrupt when it comes to feeling empathy for his fellow human beings.
The article is entitled, "Eliot Spitzer's Mission Impossible" and poses this question: "After he let down his family and destroyed everything he built and fought for, can Eliot Spitzer lead a meaningful public life?" But that question ignores an even bigger and more fundamental question: Can Eliot Spitzer lead a meaningful life?
Here are a few highlights from the article:
1. He feels justified in criticizing and disdaining the "Wall Street" types for making excessive amounts of money.
2. He rationalizes that having sex with prostitutes is less of a violation than having an ongoing affair with someone you know.
3. He expresses frustration that he cannot exert the level of influence that he once did.
4. He feels that his life is like the movie The Truman Show because everyone is watching.
Let me take these one by one.
1. He criticizes Wall Street and yet he is sitting on a pile of family money and spent thousands of dollars on prostitutes. He feels free to judge other people and at the same time is completely incapable of shining any light on his own behavior. He does not allow weakness in other people and does not see weakness in himself.
2. I think we can all agree that having sex with prostitutes and having sex with someone other than your spouse both fall squarely into the "very bad" category. If we ignore the fact that the solicitation of prostitution is a crime, there is really no benefit in distinguishing which one might be worse because they are both "very bad."
Spitzer has tried to convince himself that there is a moral reason why he didn't have an affair with someone he cared about and instead chose prostitutes. He is fooling himself. The reason that he did not have an ongoing extramarital affair is that he can't fall in love with anyone other than himself. Prostitutes were convenient and, in his eyes, less than human. True intimacy with a wife or a mistress doesn't seem to be an option for him.
3. Of course, Spitzer is frustrated that he has lost his power. He enjoyed being powerful and delighted in being mean. If he did some incidental good in his public office, it was not for altruistic purposes. It was merely a side effect of the gratification of his own desires to exercise power over other people. The author of the article writes, "Spitzer seems to have decided that he has done his penance." It seems he is honestly confused as to why he cannot regain the reins of power. He has committed crimes, embarrassed his family, and disgraced his office and then he wonders why people don't like him anymore.
4. He feels like his life is on public display, but unlike the character in The Truman Show, Spitzer chose the kind of life that he would have. He could have led a life of privileged anonymity in his family's real estate business, but chose not to. Now, according to the article, he finds himself bored out of his mind and is quoted as saying, "When you have nothing to do all day, you eventually start yelling from the rafters."
Somewhere along the way, Spitzer missed out on one of life's great lessons: the meaning of your life is not what you do in public - it is how you treat people in private. Anne Landers said, "The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good." Until Spitzer finds it within himself to care for people in private and experience true emotions in private, no amount of appearances on The Colbert Report will repair his character or restore him in the eyes of the public.
So what does the future hold for Eliot Spitzer? I have no idea, because the answer to the question of whether he can lead a meaningful life in public or in private can only be answered by him.