Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Eliot Ness

If you live in the United States you must have heard by now that governor Eliot Spitzer of the state of New York was caught visiting a very expensive prostitution ring. He earned his political spurs by being very tough on crime and by going after the powerful Wall Street silverbacks.

That he was then caught doing something illegal (prostitution is illegal in New York state) toppled his crime-fighting halo, and a crime-fighter without that halo does tend to look like the other side. Now, it's worth asking why he was investigated in the first place and whether the silverbacks had anything at all to do with it, and Jane Hamsher asks many good questions about the whole investigation. But the fact remains that he was caught with his pants down and his political career is over.

That's the story from a centrist or lefty political angle, the way it is mostly told on the blogs. There might be a few additional comments about the Vitter case or the Craig case, neither of which seems to have gone exactly the way the Spitzer case appears to have been managed. For example, someone gave Spitzer's name to the New York Times,and the investigation itself seems to have been focused on Spitzer from the very beginning rather than on the prostitution ring.

The general discussion may also note that prostitution should really be legalized or it might lament the sex-angle and the puritanism of the American culture, but the general consensus is that Spitzer deserved to be caught because he was doing exactly what he so hated in others: breaking the law.

All this is the mainstream media angle to the story and also, of course, the male angle to the story, because it's easier for heterosexual men to imagine themselves as the clients of an expensive hooker than as the hooker herself. This angle leaves the prostitutes in the shadows, still mostly viewed as a sexual object and part of the titillations the whole scandal affords us. Amanda comments on some of those hidden aspects of the story:

I'll show my hand up front—while I'm happy to play partisan Democrat a lot of the time, my sympathy for Spitzer is short to non-existent. I'm with Jeff. Sure, Spitzer is the victim of a double standard here, one that doesn't apply to Republicans, but that mainly shows that the problem is that Republicans are being held to a too-low standard. First of all, prostitution is illegal, and public officials who help enforce the law against the rest of us need to be held accountable to that law. Second of all, doubly so when it comes to prostitution, because prostitutes are citizens, too, and deserve our protection. But it seems that Spitzer needed so much damn money for his hobby because he enjoyed doing things that were quite likely dangerous to prostitutes, probably asking to go condomless. Do you think, if one of the prostitutes he visited were arrested, he would have come clamoring to her defense? Yeah, neither do I. After all, he helped make his career by busting prostitution rings.

This reminds us that prostitution is a dangerous profession for women. You go to hotel rooms to meet men you know nothing about, and those men might ask you to do dangerous things. What if you refuse?

It is not clear what the dangerous requests were that Spitzer supposedly made, but it's good to be reminded of the fact that having sex without a condom exposes several people to the risk of sexually transmitted diseases and those people are not limited to just the sex workers and the client himself but everybody else he might have sex with later on.

Which brings me to the videos showing governor Spitzer give a press conference with his wife standing next to him. Can't we dispense with this ritual humiliation of the spouse?