New Republic Gives Atonement Advice for Eliot Spitzer

Former New York governor Eliot Spitzer, who resigned due to his involvement in a prostitution ring, is slowly attempting to edge himself back into the public eye with his new column in Slate. The problem from the POV of The New Republic is that Spitzer is trying to make himself relevant again much too quickly without showing the proper remorse. As a result, The New Republic gives Spitzer some atonement advice written by Jacob Gershman which does the former governor no real service since anything he does now will come off as a cynical attempt to return to the public eye:

For anybody familiar with Eliot Spitzer's writings and speeches, the ex-governor's 1,100-word debut of his new Slate column on December 3 was pure Spitzerese: dry, dense, logical, pedagogic. "Almost everyone overlooked a news item," he starts out, explaining how GE Capital's purchase of Chinese-produced airplanes is a telling reminder of the "structural problems that are causing economic power to shift away from the United States."

That piece and its follow-up, in which the Spitzer suggests a more market-oriented Big Three bailout, are notable for his (or his editor's) avoidance of an adversarial tone. In the first piece, he doesn't mention one person by name or single out a Wall Street firm, and he concludes not with a heads-must-roll edict but with a dull proposal for a "return to an era of vibrant competition among multiple, smaller entities."

The sober tone of the biweekly column, and its decidedly not-salacious subject matter--"It'll be heavily about the financial crisis and fixing financial markets and the economy generally," Slate Group editor-in-chief Jacob Weisberg told The New York Observer--suggest that, less than nine months after he resigned as governor of New York following revelations that he paid for sex with prostitutes, Spitzer seeks to regain respectability. He wants people to take him seriously and listen to his ideas. He wants to insert himself into the great debates of our time and influence policy. In short, he wants to matter (again).

Unfortunately for Spitzer, The New Republic just isn't buying into Spitzer's attempt to "regain respectability":

But is he going about his rehabilitation in the right way? Will attempted extrication from tabloid hell be successful--and does it deserve to be? While nobody knows the secret to rebounding from a collapse as spectacular as the one that befell the Sheriff of Wall Street, an early consensus has emerged that Spitzer is botching his comeback.

The problem isn't that New Yorkers and others don't want him to succeed. Whether in sports, drama, or politics, people love comebacks--the deeper the hole to climb out of the better. But a comeback, especially for a scandal-tarred politician, must follow set guidelines and steps of progression. You can't skip ahead. Spitzer's problem is that he isn't playing by the rules.

Rules which require that Spitzer go on an extended atonement tour like Doug "Greaseman" Tracht did when he cleaned out toilets for years at homeless kitchens before he was allowed back on the radio. Fortunately for Spitzer, an atonement expert was consulted for his advice:

That's the opinion of Howard Rubenstein, dean of New York City's public relations industry, who says Spitzer "may be premature in writing the column and taking the step forward that way publicly." Rubenstein, who once represented Spitzer's father, says the former governor "ought to sit back and ask himself the question: What else do I have to do before I make an obvious move for public attention?"

For one, Spitzer has yet to convince the public that he's actually sorry. When he resigned in March, he faced the cameras and said he had "begun to atone for my private failings." Since then, while privately apologizing to some friends and colleagues, Spitzer has made little effort to publicly show his remorse, and people have noticed. "He's missing the hurt he caused everybody, the hopes that were dashed, and the fact that the entire state government ground to a halt," one of his former senior aides told me.

Rubenstein advises Spitzer to avoid submitting himself to a squirm-inducing television interview, like the one Mel Gibson gave Diane Sawyer two years ago. "You never know where it's going," he says. Instead, he says Spitzer ought to "write something in terms of a full apology to the people who loved him and the people who supported him," and post the letter online. Rubenstein said it should say something like: "I've had a very painful, terrible episode. I want to give a total apology to anyone I've injured."

Even then, Spitzer wouldn't be off the hook, says Rubenstein, who recommends that Spitzer emulate John Profumo, the British war secretary, whose affair with a showgirl who was also seeing a Russian spy scandalized the U.K. in 1963. After he resigned, his decades of social work in London's East End became as well known as the events that ended his political career. Spitzer, says Rubenstein, should "pick a charity he likes and thinks he could work for. It can be a soup kitchen. He has to do something where he can use his talent or physical being. He shouldn't try to publicize it, either. He's got to try to build the feeling that he truly regrets what he's done without saying, 'Trust me.' He has to earn it now."

Profumo's second act isn't an easy one to follow. His son David told me over e-mail, "I don't think many people who have resigned from public office under comparable circumstances have subsequently set such an example, and I believe on his death this was generally recognized." Still, the example of Profumo, who was around the same age as Spitzer when their lives imploded, shows the possibilities of recovery.

If Spitzer really follows Profumo's example that would mean he must withdraw permanently from public life. And so far, Spitzer just doesn't seem willing to follow such advice as evidenced from the conclusion of the article:

One senses that Spitzer doesn't think he needs to work his way up from the bottom. On Monday night, he attended Slate's Christmas party, unfortunately held at a Chinatown bar called Happy Ending. The jokes wrote themselves. As long as he's seen as unrepentant, people will take pleasure in knocking Spitzer down a peg. But for now, don't call it a comeback.

Perhaps the Greaseman could give Spitzer lessons in cleaning toilets. After about four years on the Toilet Tour, Spitzer could start thinking of returning to the public eye. However, the jokes will never stop:

They found the source of all global warming in America: Eliot Spitzer’s pants… 

Eliot Spitzer Prostitution Scandal New Republic Eliot Spitzer
P.J. Gladnick's picture