On Monday, after it was announced that New York Governor Eliot Spitzer is linked to a prostitution ring, politicians and commentators alike were universally “shocked” by the behavior of a man who they perceived as a squeaky clean champion against corruption. Yes, many considered him arrogant; but almost all considered him an uncompromising champion of the law. Nothing could be further from the truth.
No one should be shocked by Spitzer’s conduct. Rather than a champion of the law, Spitzer, in recent years, has undermined the Rule of Law. This is how Nobel laureate Friedrich Hayek explained the Rule of Law:
It is the Rule of Law, …the absence of legal privileges of particular people designated by authority, which safeguards the equality before the law which is the opposite of arbitrary government.
In 2005, Spitzer was New York’s Attorney General. How did Spitzer perform on the standard of insuring “equality before the law”? In 2005 John Whitehead, former chairman of Goldman Sachs, related a phone call that Spitzer placed to him in April 2005 after Whitehead defended Hank Greenberg in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. Greenberg is the former head American International Group (AIG). Spitzer had publicly charged Greenberg with fraud, but then Spitzer declined to file criminal charges. When Whitehead decried Spitzer’s abuses, Spitzer phoned him and said:
Mr. Whitehead, it’s now a war between us and you’ve fired the first shot. I will be coming after you. You will pay the price. This is only the beginning and you will pay dearly for what you have done. You will wish you had never written that letter.
In 2005 the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Thomas Donohue, called Spitzer’s prosecutorial excesses “the most egregious and unacceptable form of intimidation we’ve seen in this country in modern times.”
In 2006 Spitzer was elected Governor of New York. Within months of assuming office, it was revealed that Spitzer had ordered the New York State Police to record the whereabouts of New York State Senate majority leader, Joseph Bruno.
Official abuse undermines the rule of law far more than the behavior of any criminal. It is the job of government to be an impartial umpire, upholding the rule of law. When umpires use the law to further their own ends, our institutions erode in very alarming ways. In other words, judges who take bribes from drug dealers do far more damage to the system than the damage done by drug dealers on the street corner.
It is the human condition to be prone to excesses. When we are in the grip of our ego and cut off from our Source, we seek remedies to drown the existential angst that we feel. We can acknowledge our own humanness; and in that way, we can all feel for Spitzer and his family.
Despots are notoriously prone to excesses. Why? They live more of their lifetime in an egoic state-of-mind. They are trying to control their little corner of the world. They hold press conferences to denounce individuals before they have indicted them. They threaten those who dare to oppose them. They order state police to spy on their enemies.
There should have been calls for Spitzer to resign long before today. He has been out of control for many years. A Course in Miracles offers this advice: “You who cannot even control yourselves, should hardly aspire to control the universe.” Good advice for us all!