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When servants act like masters

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Just when you think that corruption in the upper echelons of government couldn't get any more blatant, along comes Eliot Spitzer with an announcement that he is stepping down from one of the most prestigious jobs in the country because he got caught with his pants down - literally.

Spitzer resigned Monday from his post as governor of New York after admitting he'd been a client of a high-priced prostitution ring, ending what many considered one of the most promising political careers in recent memory.

Spitzer joins a long list of politicians disgraced because they couldn't manage their bedroom affairs. What makes this case so remarkable is that just a short time ago Spitzer, as New York attorney general, was considered one of the country's most unflappable law enforcement officers. He is best known as a tough prosecutor of corporate corruption, giving rise to nicknames like 'The Sheriff of Wall Street' and 'Eliot Ness' (a comparison to the leader of the legendary Untouchables and the investigator who brought down gangster Al Capone in the 1920s). Perhaps more than any other person in recent memory, Spitzer was an icon of integrity, honesty and moral principles - someone who stood up for law and justice against all odds. Now he is just another philandering hypocrite who thought he was above the law.

The rise and fall of Eliot Spitzer is stunning because it raises doubts about the ability of any person in power to resist the forces of evil. If even the great Eliot Spitzer - the last bastion of honor and duty - is corrupt, who's left to do the right thing? This episode seems to affirm once again what the moralist Lord Acton observed more than a century ago, 'Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.'

And therein lies the danger - a citizenry so disgusted with the antics of people like former president Bill Clinton, former senator Bob Packwood, former governor Neil Goldschmidt, Sen. Larry Craig and Elliot Spitzer they become cynical and jaded, throw up their hands and say, 'Ah, what the heck, they're all sleazy politicians' and no longer hold their elected officials to the highest standards of personal and professional conduct. At that point America begins to act and look like a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah.

Some will argue that it is wrong to make judgments about human sexuality between consenting adults, and that if Eliot Spitzer wants to spend time with a prostitute, that's his prerogative. That's the kind of rationalizing supporters of President Bill Clinton made in reference to the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Clinton had sex with an intern in the Oval Office - imagine what the Human Resources department at Nike, Intel or Microsoft would say to an employee who tried a stunt like that in their office. Words like 'You're fired!' come to mind. The fact is prostitution is illegal in New York and he had no choice but to resign. He should also be treated like the common criminal he is and go to jail for solicitation. His prostitute should go to jail as well, and be banned from making a profit from telling her story since that is what she is all about - money.

The morality question aside, such conduct demonstrates dangerous levels of arrogance and contempt toward the American people, their laws and institutions. Somewhere along the line they became so self-important and self-obsessed that they began acting like masters instead of servants.

As another election looms, all of this serves as a reminder that integrity matters … more than smarts, more than riches, more than experience, more than speaking ability or even good looks.

Without integrity you have nothing. Ask Eliot Spitzer.

Rick Swart is publisher of the South County Spotlight. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .