Wednesday, May 13, 2009

I don't know how long it should take to rehabilitate disgraced public figures.

Catholic and American, I believe in second chances -- and third, and fourth, and maybe even more than that. I've had more than my fair share of second chances, and am constantly grateful for the forbearance of my family, friends, employers, clients, creditors, dog, neighbors ... well, you get the idea.

But the speedy rehabilitation of former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer makes me uncomfortable. I can't see his face or listen to his voice without thinking of that excruciating press conference he gave with his lovely wife by his side, confessing behavior he'd have prosecuted at an earlier time in his career.

This article, in Newsweek a month ago, discusses his rehabilitation and his return to the public eye. He was never really away; he resigned in March 2008, and before the end of the year had started writing a column for Slate. He's been all over the TV for the last month, giving interviews about wrongdoing on Wall Street and how to fix the nation's financial crisis.

Maybe he only needed six months to "focus on his family," as he said he would when he resigned. Maybe his skills and his gifts and his commitment to public service are too powerful to deny, and he feels an overpowering compulsion to share those things with the American people. And as the Newsweek article asks, what should he be doing?

I don't know. Richard Nixon stayed out of the public eye for a decade, and by the time he came back, people were willing to respect his abilities without dwelling on his transgressions. Gary Hart never really did come back, though he still writes the occasional thoughtful opinion piece, or shows up on a public television news program. I doubt we'll see John Edwards in the public spotlight again any time soon, at least not while his wife is still alive.

American politics seems to have unspoken rules about the price of personal disgrace, but I don't know what those are. I just know that Eliot Spitzer seems to be ignoring those rules, and it makes me very uncomfortable.

Five Random Songs

"Let My Love Open the Door," Pete Townshend. A dreamy electronic remix from the Grosse Pointe Blank soundtrack.

"To Be Myself Completely," Belle & Sebastian. The cheeriest breakup song imaginable. "But to be myself completely, I've just got to say goodbye."

"Sam Stone," John Prine. An abrupt change of tone; this is a dirge for a returned Vietnam veteran who dies of a drug overdose. I got in trouble for teaching my youngest brother the chorus to this song before he was old enough to understand the words: "There's a hole in daddy's arm where all the money goes..."

"Soul on Fire," Spiritualized. I really like this band, whose sound owes a lot to Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground.

"Girl from the North Country," Jim James, M. Ward and Conor Oberst. I'm not sure where I got this track, which is a live recording.


Suburban Misfit said...

The quick rehab is amazing isn't it? Unfortunately in this day and age "disgrace" means publicity and, ultimately, financial gain. We love to see public figures turn their lives around and make a comeback.

JIM LAMB said...

Maybe that the reason Spitzer is back in favor is because his successor is so bad.

Larry said...

I find it incredible that scorned officials, even those who have served time in prison are re-elected to the same office they once shamed.

norby said...

Not to mention, if I was his wife, it would take a lot longer than six months for me to deal with that, and let him back in my good graces. Public (political) position to consider or not...

AnswerGirl said...

Larry, I lived in Washington, DC during the Marion Barry years, and I still have no idea how that happened.