Spitzer: First Year Flaws; Hoping For Recovery
By HENRY STERN
As a post-Thanksgiving gift, Gov. Eliot Spitzer received modified, limited absolution on the front page of the Times. The story appeared last week below a delicately lit picture that resembled a painting by one of the Dutch masters. The governor is posed in serious thought, his brow furrowed and his right hand on his chin.
Above the picture, is an italicized quote from Spitzer: “There’s an art there that I would like to be more successful at.”
In the story headlined; AFTER A ROUGH START, SPITZER RETHINKS HIS WAYS,the Times is doing what it does so ably, explaining history in the newspaper’s own context.
We quote paragraphs seven and eight: “Coming after a summer of scandals and other stumbles, the long and ultimately futile battle over driver’s licenses has left many people pondering the same simple question: Does Eliot Spitzer have the judgment to succeed as governor?
“I’m not naturally suited to this job perhaps,’ Mr. Spitzer said in the interview.” But maybe, at this point in time, we need someone who is not naturally suited to it to get done the transformative things that the public wants done.”
We believe there is a common thread in all the governor’s problems. He does not treat other people with the respect they believe they are due. It is an old problem in politics. People who attain high office often feel that they are smarter and better than most everyone else. That may be true to a certain extent. However, it is very important not to show other people, by word or deed, that one feels that way.
Gov. Spitzer is certainly not the only politician to suffer from this affliction. We know a number of others but will not mention their names because there is no point in gratuitous insult, particularly if the people involved are no longer public officials. We say empirically that a number of them are alumni of Harvard Law School.
Their self important attitude, however, does not come from their attendance at the Law School. The same educational experience gave me feelings of inadequacy, because I knew I could never learn the way Law Review students did, no matter how long I pored over the assigned material. Different people have different gifts, and that is an important point which our governor should learn, emotionally as well as intellectually.
Simple and naive as it may appear to sophisticated readers like yourselves, the hubris derived from success in life is the cause of many, but by no means all, of the governor’s misfortunes. He also happens to be a reformer in a city of accommodation to the powers that be. He is surrounded by advocates of special privilege, a situation comparable to the French railway system’s domination by its unions. And he has, thankfully, not surrendered to the status quo.
The frequency and extent of demands for state funding, aggravated by the underpaid but overgenerous judiciary, are substantially greater than the supply of money raised through taxation, particularly if there is a downturn in the finance-based economy of the city and the state.
There is chronic structural imbalance in the state budget, and it is worsening yearly. The governor increased the state budget by twice (some say three times) the rate of inflation in his first set of proposals in January 2007, when he was still popular. How does he expect to make meaningful reductions now, at a time while he is not held in particularly high regard, either as a moralist or as a strategist?
It is particularly important now that the governor not resort to pandering, trying to feed or gratify special interests at the expense of the general public. First, he is not enough of a hypocrite to be a credible panderer. Second, he has no money to pander with, unless he further adds to the mountain of state debt. Third, the approval of the legislature is required for a really juicy pander, and the solons won’t sign off unless they can hog the credit and make off with most of the pork.
The governor is in for a ‘long, hard slog,’ a phrase we learned from former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Spitzer has two years to make his record, for the last year, 2010, will be dominated by the impending state elections. He has already said that he will not raise taxes, a commitment which doomed Bush 41 when he broke his promise: “Read my lips. No new taxes,” because he believed it was the right thing to do.
Spitzer’s words on taxation are doubtful anyway because of his attempt, now postponed, to collect sales tax on internet purchases, which the state has the right to do, and his support for the congestion pricing plan which would, in effect, impose a $5 toll on those East River bridges currently free. When they were built about a century ago, the bridges charged tolls, but they were measured in pennies rather than dollars.
The governor also told the press that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff had approved his driver’s license plans, and that the 2007 Legislative session was very successful, statements which indicated to many (in the words of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, as repeated by Hillary Clinton with regard to General Petraeus) “a willing suspension of disbelief.”
For the good of the State of New York and its people, we want Gov. Spitzer to get his groove back, or if he never had one, as some say, he should find one and stay in it. We do not want to see government paralyzed until the 2008 election, where the issue will be Republican control of the State Senate. Unless there is a Democratic landslide, the issue of Senate control will be resolved by individual races in the limited number of swing seats allowed under the gerrymander imposed by the bipartisan cabal that draws the lines.
In weighing the difficulties of the governor’s personality and attitude as compared with the self-serving irresponsibility of the thoroughly lobbied legislature, we retain wistful regard for the beleaguered Spitzer. But if the governor squanders what remains of his reputation in quixotic crusades or in fiscal irresponsibility, he will lose whatever advantage he had as a man of principle and merit.
We hope Spitzer nor does not consider the Times article as absolution for his errors, or see his relative candor in the interview as expiation for his attitude. We want him to take advantage of December’s holiday spirit, enjoy a break from divisive disputes and start renewed and refreshed on January 1, which will be Day 366 of the era that began with Everything Changes on Day One.
We trust his sophomore year will be better than his freshman year, and that the attitude adjustment demanded by public opinion and the press will result in a new openness and respect for other people and their opinions. Under the theory of mutuality, this will result in others having more respect for him, and greater likelihood of co-operation for the benefit of all. We know it is more easily said than done, but…
Just do it.