The Real Question About Eliot Spitzer Has Yet to Be Answered

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“The question is,” says the narrator of the new documentary Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer, “How did the investigation against Spitzer begin?”

Sorry, but that is so not the question. The unabashedly pro-Spitzer film, which comes out Nov. 5, makes the semi-plausible case that the former governor and attorney general of New York, who resigned in 2008 after he was revealed to be a client of a high-priced prostitution ring, was actually the victim of political and legal adversaries. The film’s contention is that Spitzer, having wielded his anti-corruption scythe through Wall Street and Albany, had amassed enough enemies to become a target, and was ultimately brought down by an alliance of his politically connected and deep-pocketed enemies. (More on 5 Little-Known Truths About American Sex Lives)

Why, the movie wants to know, did the transactions involving money wired by Spitzer to an escort service, among the bazillions of transactions that take place every day, attract the FBI’s attention and trigger the wiretap that was ultimately his undoing?

This is a bit like asking which foot the chicken used first when it crossed the road. The real question is, why did Spitzer — identified in court documents as Client 9 — wire money to an escort service in the first place? How could a guy so smart be so stupid? What thirst is so unslakable that it makes a man who knows he’s got a bull’s-eye on his rump drop his trousers to get a drink?

Generally the default position when a husband strays is to speculate on what’s rotten in the state of his marriage or what’s wrong with his wife. This is misogyny at its finest, of course, because it assumes the problem is the woman’s — she’s not doing something she should be doing, or she’s let herself go or she’s made him fall out of love with her. In many cases, however, otherwise upright men who seek out prostitutes do so because of issues not of their wife’s making. (More on Study of American Sex Habits Suggests Boomers Need Sex Ed)

Indeed, the movie gives a glimpse of just how good Silda Spitzer was for her husband. She’s the one who found him the campaign manager who figured out how to take the sow’s purse of Spitzer’s short-temperedness and transform it into the silk purse of his crusading passion. And if anyone ever doubted Silda’s commitment, just watch Spitzer’s apology and resignation: there she was, a Harvard Law graduate, standing by her much less physically favored husband as he explained that he’d, you know, completely betrayed her.

Spitzer does no better at explaining his actions than the film. He hints that he employed prostitutes because there was less chance of a romantic entanglement that way. Using prostitutes was not as damaging “as having an affair or relationship that takes on a different tenor,” he says. O.K., fine, but how about just racking the cue? That’s another option. Or if that’s not possible, how about trying to deal with his insatiable appetites the old-fashioned legal way?

And what of the sophisticated escort service that entrapped him? In the movie, the Emperors Club seems almost comically unsophisticated. “You know, when you’re spending $30,000 to send a girl to Chicago, it doesn’t feel like prostitution,” says giggly 23-year-old CEO Cecil Suwal, girlfriend of the service’s 60-plus owner Mark Brener. “It feels like something else. That’s where I think we got a little lost.” (More on Photos: Love and Marriage in Prime Time)

The voting public has made it reasonably clear that if possible they would prefer leaders who did not visit prostitutes or “walk the Appalachian Trail” or have children of wedlock. It doesn’t seem to be a very high bar, yet it trips up so many elected men that the female French finance minister Christine Lagarde was given to opine recently that perhaps women just make better politicians.

That’s dubious: women have their own equally debilitating flaws. But Client 9 is an ultimately unsatisfying coda to the Spitzer story. It may do a nice job of displaying the intrigue and skullduggery behind Spitzer’s fall, but that’s just not the question most people are interested in.

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