Character Was Destiny for Spitzer; Will It Be for Trump?


Gov. Eliot Spitzer of New York resigning on March 12, 2008.

Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

In a “Meet the Press” interview on Sunday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin shrugged off questions about President Trump’s incendiary tweets, personal insults and vulgar language. Mr. Mnuchin suggested that he was above riffraff talk. “I think you should be focused on what the policies are,” he told the show’s host, Chuck Todd.

His words sounded high-minded, but they rang hollow. Mr. Mnuchin, who has milked taxpayers so that he and his wife can travel in style, might benefit from a refresher course in the axiom that character is destiny. It’s an idea that has been around for a couple of thousand years, and for good reason: It’s inherently true.

This brings us to Eliot Spitzer, the former New York governor, who also once seemed to give that concept short shrift. “I do not believe that politics in the long run is about individuals,” he said. “It is about ideas, the public good and doing what is best for the state of New York.” That was on March 10, 2008, a few days before Mr. Spitzer was forced to resign as governor amid revelations that he’d been a frequent patron of a prostitution ring. His hypocrisy was manifest, given how he had proclaimed himself an implacable foe of the sex trade because it exploited women. Character, meet your destiny.

This week, the 10th anniversary of his resignation, news organizations have resurrected the scandal, exploring how it rapidly unfolded and offering where-are-they-now profiles of key figures. Mr. Spitzer, now 58, has taken control of his family’s real-estate business. After an unsuccessful run for city comptroller five years ago, he’s not through with politics so much as politics is through with him.

Few New Yorkers shed tears over his demise because, in the course of fewer than 15 months as governor, he had alienated many voters and fellow politicians alike with his heedless manner. His fate is worth noting in light of present-day national politics.

Mr. Spitzer, a Democrat, warned a Republican assemblyman that he was a “steamroller” who’d run over opponents, modifying that word with a well-worn Anglo-Saxonism. He described Joseph Bruno, the State Senate Republican leader and a man 30 years his senior, as “old” and “senile,” throwing in vulgar language to show his own toughness. He gracelessly likened the governorship of his predecessor, George Pataki, to Rip Van Winkle, sleeping the years away — this in his inaugural speech, with Mr. Pataki sitting right there. During an argument, one state senator said, Mr. Spitzer threatened to cut his head off.

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