Rich John/Poor John: The Return of Eliot Spitzer

"This is what comptrolling is all about," remarks Comptroller Atkins, an occasional character from "The Simpsons."

What is it about though, really, for Eliot Spitzer?

Surely, Spitzer's recently announced campaign for the seemingly low-stakes office of New York City Comptroller is not meant to be the final career capper for this most-recent would-be comeback kid.

Might we imagine the hard charging, corruption-busting Spitzer of old feeling satisfied with the heights he will no doubt achieve supervising audits of city agencies and promoting municipal bonds, among other duties?

Yes, Spitzer Reborn (Spitzer 2.0? Spitzer 3000?) will certainly clean up whatever mess he discovers in the office -- I have no evidence there is any, John Liu! -- and demonstrate in one term, maybe two, how his attention to detail and his perseverance in the trenches of public service make him a man worthy of our renewed confidence.

Oh Eliot, how you are redeemed.

Oh Eliot, how we were wrong.

Before long, this dogged crusader will have erased the 2008 prostitution scandal that forced his resignation as Governor of New York.

Fast-forward to 2020:

Say there Jeff, wasn't President Spitzer once involved in a scandal of sorts?

Hmm, Joe, it's hard to remember, but yes, let me check the Google Lens embedded into my retina and brain stem...Yep, says here on the 15,000th results page that he engaged in extramarital affairs with prostitutes, I think, or maybe he didn't, it's hard to read this thing in my self-flying car.

Huh, Jeff, that doesn't sound right. Real girls? When there's so much porn available inside my eyeball? Wonder what he paid for those ahem "real girls"?

Hold on, Joe. It's here: $80,000.

(Sound of self-flying car crashing into pile of sentient iPads).

Let us put aside for a moment -- as a thought experiment -- the moral questions of Spitzer's trysts, and focus on that number: $80,000.

I don't know how many assignations that man had in the course of his illicit sex career, and the $80,000 number is cited along with reports that Spitzer may have spent $4,300 on a single sex experience (although he may have been purchasing advance credit for future bookings).

What's really galling here, to me, the non-prostitute-visiting little guy, is the amount of money Spitzer dumped into his habit. Ok, yes, he was a high-profile public figure who required secrecy perhaps beyond the average John, and perhaps the amount of money he spent allowed him to purchase certain discretions, but do New Yorkers want someone who spends that much on prostitutes to oversee city pensions?

(Yes, I know about Mayor Bloomberg's mad wealth).

Philosopher Martha Nussbaum penned an essay at the time of the scandal decrying American moralism against sex workers -- and our outrage against Spitzer -- as a mask hiding the larger inequities of body exploitation/service/sales in which we all engage:

Eliot Spitzer's offense was an offense against his family. It was not an offense against the public. If he broke any laws, these are laws that never should have existed and that have been repudiated by sensible nations.

Nussbaum also suggests that the difference between a sex worker and a professor is "the difference between a prosperous well-educated woman and a poor woman with few employment options."

What, then, is the difference between a well-educated John (Spitzer) and a poor John with few employment options?

It is unlikely that the poor John would find himself in a position that rested on his public crusade against the type of practice in which he engaged. It would be unlikely that the poor John would have conducted investigations against banks that he later used to pay his prostitutes and attempt to cover his tracks.

It is further unlikely that a poor John caught patronizing as many prostitutes as Spitzer would have, like Spitzer, not been charged with a crime.

Spitzer's first crime, then, was hypocrisy. Here I agree with Nussbaum's claims about American puritanism that delights in the fall of those in power, at least for a Twitter cycle or two.

His second crime was perhaps the actual sex-for-cash -- and the amount he spent on it -- although America forgives at least the first part of this transgression with increasing speed.

Spitzer's real crime, beyond these crimes, is not only his own ego, his hubris (set among what I like to imagine is his very real competency as a public servant), but also the fact that comptrolling has nothing to do with his ambition or his current campaign.

If he wins, he'll Mark Sanford it with style.

He'll Newt Gingrich it with the best of them.

To do so, Eliot Spitzer as Comptroller will bury the past in a pile of papers, lose himself in reports on the city's economy, and he'll come out the other side of this public service cleansed and processed, stamped and sealed, repackaged for an America that -- insert F. Scott Fitzgerald quote about no second acts in American lives, and then yawn -- keeps its former friends close, and its political clichés even closer.