At long last, partisan politics have yielded to common cause. The Democrats have reached across the aisle and joined their Republican brethren in the sticky web of sexual scandal.
I'm talking about Eliot Spitzer, the governor of New York, of course. Spitzer resigned last week because of revelations that he has spent an estimated $80,000 on prostitutes provided by the elegantly named Emperor's Club V.I.P. (That's "Very Important Penis," in case you didn't know.)
Personally, I don't care if Spitzer hired prostitutes any more than I care that Larry Craig assumed a wide stance on a toilet to play footsie with an undercover cop he wanted to blow.
As usual, though, the hypocrisy is breathtaking. Spitzer, formerly New York's attorney general, has made his career as a crusading moralist, busting fraud on Wall Street and – so pathetic – prosecuting several prostitution rings with the zeal of a puritanical superhero.
I don't think Spitzer's hypocrisy has caused as much harm as Craig's, who has a long history of opposing gay-rights legislation between visits to bathrooms to cruise for gay sex. Disenfranchising a large minority of which you're secretly a member seems more ethically detestable than enforcing stupid laws that you're breaking yourself.
Further, there are questions about how Spitzer's sexploits became public since hiring prostitutes is a crime seldom prosecuted. The official word at this writing is that the governor's behavior came to light during a routine IRS investigation of financial transactions that appeared designed to hide their function. Perhaps. And maybe it's just coincidence that Spitzer's Wall Street cleanup has made him many enemies among moneyed Bush administration supporters.
Still, Spitzer's hypocrisy is sufficient to deserve contempt. And he gets a big demerit for stupidity. On the other hand, he deserves acknowledgement for instantly admitting his error unlike, say, David Vitter, Mark Foley and Ted Haggard, all of whom compounded public contempt by denying everything until the equivalent of Monica Lewinksy's semen-stained dress was exhibited.
As usual, the mainstream media have been dialing up psychologists to ask why, why, why a powerful man would risk all for sexual pleasure. A day after the news was made public, Googling "Spitzer sex addiction" already produced more than 1,300 results. One doesn't have to strain hard to imagine Mark Foley welcoming Spitzer to rehab, the place every fucked-up celebrity now goes to avoid public scrutiny until the storm blows over.
For all I know, Spitzer is indeed a sex addict. Nonetheless, the way a florid sex life is invariably described as an illness has become tedious. While the acquisition of power may enable the acting out of fantasies by conferring a sense of immunity from scrutiny, there's hardly anything more common than pornographic fantasies. It's just that the wealthy and powerful get to enact them.
Freud repeatedly observed that little has made mankind as miserable as the repression of sexual desire. He also theorized what he called a "reaction formation" by which people try to replace their unacceptable desires and feelings with their opposites. Thus the sex-obsessed politician, preacher or average Joe becomes a fanatical puritan.
This process is unconscious and, odd as it seems, the typical such person doesn't even perceive the contradiction. As a defense, the reaction formation works for a time but almost always collapses, leaving the individual unable to avoid the behavior he condemns. Indeed, like Spitzer, he becomes all the more obsessed.
Unfortunately, this is a cultural condition. We are a nation founded by puritans, after all. Even if we don't individually behave like Spitzer and friends, their stories become enormously overvalued, stimulating our own sexual wishes and defenses. The public figure must be punished to maintain our own self-judgment and self-containment.
We've repeatedly seen, since Bill Clinton, the way this process eclipses every other concern. Lying about a sexual indiscretion becomes more objectionable than, say, lying about the motivation to invade another nation.
If the day ever arrives that Americans collectively don't fear pleasure more than violence, stories like Spitzer's and Clinton's will become subjects of comedy rather than the hand-wringing hysteria that prompted the New York Times to report that Spitzer had "paralyzed" state government – with his very important penis.
Cliff Bostock holds a Ph.D. in depth psychology. For information on his private practice, go to www.cliffbostock.com.
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