Didn’t you just love those first headlines? New York Governor Eliot Spitzer is “involved in an international prostitution and money-laundering ring.” The guy hired a hooker!–and initial reports gave the impression that Spitzer was single-handedly running a network of trafficked sex slaves. Even after it became clear that he hadn’t paid for his jollies with tax dollars, and had nothing to do with the running of the escort service, those breaking stories left Spitzer tainted way beyond the simple crime of johndom. Not that I’m defending the guy—he’s a hypocritical snake. What I find myself defending, as I do during every political sex scandal, is sex itself. The national conversation surrounding these scandals begins and ends with the most smarmy and ignorant views imaginable of all things sexual.
When a pattern of behavior is repeated over and over, whether by the same individual or by different individuals in a society, you’d think the dialog would evolve over time to a deeper understanding of that pattern. Unfortunately, this latest incident shows no progression in thought or analysis on the part of the American people. Once again, a hotshot politician or celebrity is caught red-handed. Again, abject apologies and shameful resignation follow. Again, the humiliated, loyal wife stands by his side evoking public pity. Talking heads, agog with stunned surprise, weigh in with predictable judgments. Moral arbiters of the culture debate who’s to blame, the hooker or the john.
I love it that the founders of the escort service Spitzer used had a highly developed sense of irony, apparent in their name: The Emperors Club VIP. This was an upscale escort service that arranged trysts between more than 50 prostitutes and wealthy male clients in London, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Paris and Washington, who paid $1,000 to $5,500 an hour. Spitzer, known as Client Number 9, hired Kristen, a 22-year old who goes by the name Ashley Alexandra Dupre (neé Youmans) at least once and probably more. An aspiring singer who, as evidenced by her video, will probably stay at the aspiring level forever, she started practicing early on for her career: a former elementary school teacher described her as having “a heart of gold.”
Except for Bill Clinton, who’s never claimed to be a paragon of virtue, it’s always the biggest prudes and anti-sex crusaders who get caught with their pants down. Eliot Spitzer may have set some kind of world record in the hypocrisy department: he built a reputation as an ethical crusader, and, as a former prosecutor, employed the same electronic and surveillance tools that were used to bring him down. Last year Spitzer signed a law that lengthened jail time for johns from three months to as much as a year.
It’s this hypocrisy that fuels my contempt for the man, not his bedroom behavior–and I’m not alone. “This guy was ostentatiously Mr. Morality,” said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “This is feet-of-clay kind of stuff. Like, ‘Boy, this guy has been telling us how pure we ought to be — look at him!’ ”
In addition to being a hypocrite, Spitzer was disliked by nearly everyone in New York state government. It sounds like he intentionally cultivated enemies, confronting the administration in Albany from the minute he was elected. Not surprisingly, a lot of people are gleeful over his demise. Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf, who worked on two of Spitzer’s campaigns, said he won’t survive politically, as some other political “sinners” have, like Clinton and Barney Frank, because “he’s got no friends. If you’re seen as being the source of all moral behavior and then you turn out not to be that way, people are happy about it.”
Of course, not everyone’s happy—for instance, those moral arbiters I mentioned. Take the morning talk show The View, in which a group of well-known women dish the dirt each morning. The core panel is comprised of Barbara Walters, Whoopi Goldberg, Joy Behar, Sherri Shepherd and Elisabeth Hasselbeck, with various guests, substitutes and long-term temps thrown in from time to time. As a group they hold predictably narrow opinions on sex, although Whoopi occasionally challenges received opinion. Talking fast and furious, arguing over one another, each woman lays out her case until they reach a group conclusion: Spitzer is despicable, his wife Silda is a victim, the whore is a whore is a whore, and we all know men can’t control their sex drive. As Annie Sprinkle says: Sexual Kindergarten!
Apparently The View represents the latest in feminist thinking: I got involved in a blog discussion about prostitution, where commenters repeatedly cite “the feminist position.” As I commented, there is no monolithic feminist position, and, further,
… it’s been fought over by feminists on both sides of the issue. There is a sizable contingent of “pro-sex’ feminists who have actually worked WITH prostitutes for legalization (and who also are pro-pornography). Many books have been written, for instance, A Vindication of the Rights of Whores, on this issue. It really pisses me off, as a die-hard feminist, to see these assumptions endlessly repeated.
If I’m so disdainful of public perceptions on sexual issues, you’d think I’d be able to formulate a cohesive position to counter them. Trouble is, this thing has its roots so deep in the collective consciousness, I wouldn’t know where to begin. I’m not against prostitutes or the men who see them. I am against deception, hypocrisy and the kind of arrogant self-entitlement that made Spitzer think he could get away with committing acts for which he sent other people to jail. Beyond that, I’m really just in first grade, sexually speaking, myself.
Thus, I invite you all to come along as I click my way over to see what Susie Bright has to say on the matter.