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Vitter situation differs from Spitzer's; resignation unneeded

Some Louisiana Democrats and some media are trying to use calls for former Democrat New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer to resign (which he did) stemming from the revelations that he employed high-priced prostitutes to argue once again that Sen. David Vitter should resign from his post, almost a year after Republican Vitter acknowledged that he had committed a “serious sin” when his phone number was discovered among records of an alleged prostitution ring. Unless one is an absolutist about moral behavior for politicians, such a demand lacks logic and/or smacks of the politics of convenience.

State Democrat Executive Director and failed candidate for his party’s central committee Chris Whittington said that if Republican governors called upon Spitzer to resign, so should Vitter – an obvious shot not only at Vitter but a subtler one at Gov. Bobby Jindal since he sits on the executive committee that makes those statements. To review, Vitter said his behavior occurred several years ago, prior to his current position, on rare occasions, has never admitted to fornication, and never had been charged with any crime. Spitzer also has not been charged with a crime, has not admitted to fornicating, although his behavior has apparently been occurring for years, prior to and during his reign as governor, right up until at least a month ago.

If one believes elected officials must not have even a hint of scandal surrounding them, then one could argue both Vitter and Spitzer should resign – as well as the likes of Democrats Sen. Mary Landrieu and Rep. William Jefferson for crimes, respectively, alleged and indicted. But beyond this, frankly, absurdly moralistic view that assigns guilt without legal proof and fails to distinguish between policy-making and governance, a reasonable moral view shows big differences, and not just because Vitter appears to be a repented sinner and Spitzer isn’t.

Spitzer as governor is not just a policy-maker, but implementer as head of his state’s executive branch. As part of that, he must take care to see that the laws are faithfully executed and done so impartially and evenly. If he demonstrates that he personally is willing to bend the laws, or to act hypocritically and selectively in their execution, it calls into question his fitness to lead the state. (Worse, as attorney general prior to his becoming governor he also was in charge of enforcing these very laws.) Such behavior which demonstrates certain undesirable qualities directly impacts on how the state will be run, with the likelihood that those qualities get translated into practice. Resignation excises a practitioner of these qualities demonstrated to be ill for the polity.

Vitter, by contrast as a legislator, only makes law. If we are to judge fitness for office, the criterion here is the quality of those laws, or to put it differently, the prudence in his policy-making. You can have rascals in personal behavior in office but if they confine themselves to making policy, absent an absolutist position it’s hard to argue there is a moral basis that they are unfit to serve in office (which does not mean there isn’t a political basis to disqualify them: voters offended by their behavior and/or policy-making can throw them out of office at the next opportunity).

Legally, Spitzer has not been demonstrated as a known practitioner of hypocrisy and selectivity in execution since he has not admitted to any behavior corroborating that (and, personally, were he or Vitter ever to be proven legally to have committed a serious crime, then my view is serious lawbreakers should resign from office as a matter of moral fitness), so we cannot argue resignation was necessary on that basis alone – even if the fact that he did appears to be a tacit admission. However, it is another aspect of Spitzer’s behavior that elevates his behavior to such a suspicious level that resignation without legal knowledge he has engaged in behavior detrimental to the state made it entirely appropriate.

Just as in the affair of former New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey, what many either don’t realize or are trying to obscure for political reasons is the real problem in their behavior is not the sexual behavior presumed involved, but of the activities surrounding it that showed real disregard for the law if not its actual breaking. McGreevey’s real troubles came because he tried to bend rules to give somebody he claimed was his homosexual lover a government job, and ultimately this guy sued him for sexual harassment.

In Spitzer’s case, it seems federal surveillance showing Spitzer utilizing prostitution services is just the first shoe that dropped. The federal case seems to be more focused on illegal activity Spitzer may have engaged in to hide the transfers of money apparently necessary to finance his assumed sexual libertine lifestyle. This behavior directly affects the public trust and Vitter never has come close to being accused of doing anything like this.

Vitter is no less as effective a policy-maker as a result of his admission and never will be charged or proven as a serious lawbreaker over his matter. On that basis, his resignation would serve no purpose. But Spitzer, as the chief executive officer of New York, faces certain indictment regarding alleged behavior that drastically reduced his ability to effectively discharge the duties of his office in leading the state. For the good of the state, as a practical matter his resignation was appropriate and desirable to prevent a crisis in governing. Those who care to inform themselves about these cases and still maintain they are similar and should end similarly cloud their judgment with a lack of critical thinking and/or political motives.


Anonymous said...

This certainly appears as a "Judge not lest ye be judged" situation. If Spitzer were to argue that he never truly believed in the rules and he was just enforcing the law because it was his job, then it would be equally righteous (or rather, equally unrighteous, but still equal) for someone to enforce the law on him "because it was [their] job," to zealously advance their career at the expense of his just as he'd done at the expense of others' careers. Spitzer, meet Karma.

Anonymous said...

I respectfully disagree. Spitzer prosecuted prostitution rings and then engaged in those very acts. Vitter is a proponent of 'family values' and yet has displayed what his true values are.
If we are to have a new image as the governor (and the people) want, we cannot do it with people like Vitter in office.
It's the hypocrisy; you can't trust someone who says one thing and does another.