Monday, March 10, 2008

Eliot Spitzer - the moral for our times

I had to comment on Eliot Spitzer's woes. For those not following the story, Eliot Spitzer is the Governor of New York, who got caught soliciting a prostitute. As prostitution is illegal in New York state, that's the end of him.

So what? He's just another American politician, right? Well his story is interesting because of the way he tried to set himself apart from "establishment" politicians. He ran on a "change" ticket - he promised to "change the ethics of Albany [the state capital of New York]". Sounds familiar? The great and the good rushed to endorse him, including Bill Richardson (Governor of New Mexico and a possible Vice Presidential candidate) who declared Spitzer was the "future of the Democratic party".

People in New York state lapped it up and elected him in 2006 with a stonking 69% of the vote. Things started to go wrong almost straight away. Apparently he thought "change" meant not consulting or compromising with the state legislature on all sorts of issues big and small, from health-care bills to drivers licences to the budget. He upset Democrats as well as Republicans and his approval rating sank to 33% before the news broke about his links to prostitution.

The moral of the story? Don't believe politicians who say they are "different" and be suspicious when they claim the are above politics and for hope and change and all that good stuff. Not only do they never live up to the rhetoric, they tend to be worse than the usual politician, partly because they believe they are so special/gifted/different they think they can get away with anything.

Your average establishment politician on the other hand, who has worked his way up the ranks, gaining experience all the way about how politics is about compromise, and how political decisions are often about making painful choices between something bad and something awful - they tend to turn out OK. They won't wow you with grand flying rhetoric, and their policy proposals might seem like the most boring things since sliced bread, but they do try to deliver them and you know exactly what to expect. It's time everyone grew up and realised that politics is desperately bread-and-butter, and expecting every politician to be Pericles/The Saviour/Alexander the Great is to doom yourself to disappointment.

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