Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Tale of Two Governors

As Rod Blagojevich struggles to keep his office after trying to sell a US Senate seat, spare a thought for Eliot Spitzer who lost his for buying bed time with a hooker.

On the eve of Change in America, their stories reflect the extremes of old politics--the self-made thief and the self-righteous reformer--both brought down by failure to hide their raw ambition behind the smooth fa├žade required by a 24/7 media culture.

Their 20th century counterparts operated in relative darkness, the first Mayor Richard Daley with a stranglehold on a corrupt Chicago, Thomas E. Dewey building a reputation as a cardboard crime-buster that led to the New York statehouse and a presidential nomination.

But in today's public life, Spitzer's hard-charging style in Wall Street prosecutions, prescient in the light of the current collapse, made him politically vulnerable and forced his resignation as governor when other prosecutors taped his pathetic private indiscretions, even though he was not charged with any criminality.

Blagojevich, on the other hand, faces a multitude of possible prosecutions but refuses to go gentle in that good night.

Their stories tell us much about culture as well as politics. Spitzer's privileged Ivy League background made him more vulnerable to public shame and peer pressure than Blagojevich, who worked his way through college by shining shoes, delivering pizza and in a meat-packing plant before marrying into a political family. Public vilification seems to roll right off his back.

As the Illinois scandal plays itself out, the former New York governor is edging back into sight by writing a column on public issues for Slate. The first this month, about bailouts, is provocatively titled "Too Big Not to Fail."

The hooker, by the way, is doing just fine, on her way to a celebrity career after being interviewed by Diane Sawyer.

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