Newsweek Examines Eliot Spitzer's Life

In a very long article, Evan Thomas examines the life and background of Eliot Spitzer, trying to understand why he engaged in such reckless conduct. Shorter version: He was trying to please Daddy.

He describes Spitzer's family:

Brought up in a cold-water flat in a New York slum, Eliot's father, Bernard, the son of Jewish immigrants, made a half-billion dollars in the cutthroat world of New York real estate. He and his wife, Anne, a former college literature teacher, are regarded as refined and cultivated, not domineering. But expectations in the Spitzer household in Fieldston, a wealthy enclave of the Bronx, were extremely high.

A series of Eliot's childhood and college friends have reported the intimidation they felt just sitting at the Spitzer dinner table. Each of the three Spitzer children was required to hold forth and debate on worthy topics (social chitchat was frowned upon). Jason Brown, who went to Horace Mann School, Princeton and Harvard Law with Eliot, compares the dinners to "a college class where the professor grills you." Afterward came games of Monopoly that qualified as play only in the loosest sense. "I play to kill," Bernard liked to joke.


Eliot the student:

The Spitzer children never rebelled. His older brother, Daniel, became a neurosurgeon. His sister, Emily, became a successful public-interest lawyer. Eliot never stopped climbing the Meritocrat Ziggurat. At Horace Mann, an incubator of competitiveness, he carried not the usual backpack but a hard briefcase, along with copies of foreign-policy magazines (to bone up for dinner). Rejected at Harvard, his aspiration, Eliot had to settle for Princeton, but got back on track by gaining admission to Harvard Law and making the Law Review. At Princeton, he was politically active, but while other students marched in protest, Eliot played squash with the university president, William Bowen. In the library, young Spitzer was known as "Ironbutt" for his prodigious study habits.

On the financing of campaigns for Attorney General:

But Spitzer was not out of his father's shadow (or debt) when he ran for office. Spitzer at first concealed, then belatedly admitted, that his father had advanced several million dollars (hidden as forgiven loans) to finance his two runs for New York state attorney general.

Spitzer's first scandal while Governor, TrooperGate:

Spitzer almost immediately got into a feud with one of the toughest bosses, the Senate majority leader, Republican Joe Bruno. Bruno called Spitzer an "overgrown, rich spoiled brat who has tantrums all over the place." Spitzer may or may not have referred to Bruno as a "senile piece of s––t," as widely reported, but he definitely told the Assembly Republican leader, James Tedisco, "I'm a f–––ing steamroller and I'll roll over you." Before long, Spitzer was embroiled in a classic Albany scandal known as "Troopergate." Spitzer's aides were caught siccing the State Police on Bruno, trying to catch him using the state helicopter for fund-raising trips. Unconvincingly, Spitzer insisted he was not directly involved (an investigation of the incident cast blame on Spitzer without finding that he broke any laws).

After that, Newsweek reports, Eliot began to slide downhill:

The tabloids were jeering at "Eliot Mess," and even his defenders at The New York Times had grown chilly. The Great Crusader had been dragged down into the pits of Albany politics. This was about the time Spitzer began aping the sort of lowlifes he despised. He began consorting with prostitutes.

The article concludes with some psychobabble:

The question is whether Spitzer can change. All his life, he has sought to match—or exceed—the expectations set for him. In psychological terms, his narcissistic disorder has finally caught up with him; his grandiosity has been deflated. Put more simply, this would be a good time to start thinking about how he could do something he really wants to do that is less grand but honorable and serves the public.

I don't think Eliot's upbringing was a huge factor in his spectacular lapse of judgment. If it was, we would have seen it before and there wouldn't have been such a unanimous reaction by everyone who knew him that they were completely shocked to learn of it.

I find it more likely he got drunk with the power of being Governor and thought he was invincible. Today he knows differently. It's just too easy to blame the parents.

I hope no criminal charges are brought against him. He needs no more punishment than what was inflicted on him this week. His wife and children have been through enough.

I also suspect it's the support of his parents, not just his siblings, wife and children that are sustaining him right now and he's very grateful for it. He should be.

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    Yeah, I'm at a loss (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by Deconstructionist on Sun Mar 16, 2008 at 03:15:46 PM EST
     as to why a demanding or even domineering father would be cause to procure hookers as a 48 year old.

      It might be a reason to do things to make people think you are not likely to procure hookers but I see no correlation to the actual act of doing it.

      On the other hand, I don't think being intoxicated by power or a sense of invulnerability explains it either. That soertof assumes it is natural to want to do it and the only reason men don't is feelings of lack of power or fear of being caught. We're not all that bad.

    Sort of a side note (5.00 / 2) (#2)
    by shoephone on Sun Mar 16, 2008 at 03:25:05 PM EST
    This confused me a bit:

    At Princeton, he was politically active, but while other students marched in protest, Eliot played squash with the university president, William Bowen.

    Spitzer and I are the same age (48) and attended college during the same years. Yes, Reagan was a nightmare for the middle class, but I don't recall any protests at all in those years except for a few smatterings of protests against U.S. involvement in Central America. And I went to a very liberal UC.

    A Wiki list of the Protest Washington DC marches (none / 0) (#26)
    by ding7777 on Sun Mar 16, 2008 at 07:11:20 PM EST
    September 19, 1981, Solidarity Day march. AFL-CIO organized march to protest Reagan Administration labor and domestic policies. 260,000 march.

    November 27, 1982 - Washington Anti-Klan protest

    March 1 to November 15, 1986 - The Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament. From Los Angeles, California to Washington D.C. (a.k.a. The Great Peace March) to raise awareness of the growing danger of nuclear proliferation and to advocate for complete, verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons from the earth.

    October 11, 1987 - Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. The second such march on Washington drew 500,000 gay men and women to protest for equal civil rights and to demand government action in the fight against AIDS.

    All of them after Spitzer graduated (none / 0) (#27)
    by scribe on Sun Mar 16, 2008 at 07:35:56 PM EST
    from Princeton, and some even after he'd graduated from law school.



    Evan Thomas' psychobabble about Daddy (5.00 / 2) (#3)
    by shoephone on Sun Mar 16, 2008 at 03:29:35 PM EST
    I don't buy it either. But I guess it sells magazines.

    I do agree with your conclusion, Jeralyn. Powerful men like Spitzer take stupid risks like this all the time. Power and ego go very well together and the sense of invincability is strong.

    Oh lord (5.00 / 3) (#4)
    by Steve M on Sun Mar 16, 2008 at 03:29:37 PM EST
    May the gods preserve me from this sort of pop psychology.

    I'm roughly the same age too (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by Deconstructionist on Sun Mar 16, 2008 at 03:34:55 PM EST
     (class of 81) So Reagan was President for only a few months of my undergrad days. The political  issues I recall being the most debated on campus was U.S. (and corporate and university) relationship with South Africa, the re-instituted requirement that 18 year old men register with selective serveice  and the then  nascent conservative movement complaining about profs who taught a Marxist perspective, but the campus was generally pretty quiet in terms of "protests."

      Back to motivation, how about just being horny? With hookers what else could it really be? I mean as a chronological peer of Spitzer's (although in better shape and better looking, trust me) I could understand the the immature  but human desire to prove to one's self that younger women still find you attractive, but paying them to be with you really seems to undermine not reinforce one's confidence in that regard.


    No emotional involvement w/ hookers. n/t (5.00 / 1) (#19)
    by shoephone on Sun Mar 16, 2008 at 04:11:12 PM EST
    ehh, contemporary - you're forgetting (none / 0) (#8)
    by scribe on Sun Mar 16, 2008 at 03:44:02 PM EST
    a couple things:

    "We want pot, not paraquat" (when was the last time you thought about that, huh?);
    The No Nukes concerts at MSG, post-Three Mile Island;
    ummm, I don't remember much else - memory hazy from too much beer back then.

    Princeton as a safety school.  Imagine.  I got the thin envelope from there, as did a HS classmate who went on to another Ivy.  Me, they laughed, I'm sure.  My classmate was told "Regrettably, you're not the Princeton type".  I'll bet - just b/c of the safety school aspect - he isn't getting to lecture there any time soon.


    LOL. It IS hard to remember... (5.00 / 1) (#17)
    by shoephone on Sun Mar 16, 2008 at 04:09:21 PM EST
    but I went to UC Santa Cruz and even us knee-jerk liberal beach bums found more energy for study than for protest.

    paraquat was more high school era (none / 0) (#9)
    by Deconstructionist on Sun Mar 16, 2008 at 03:47:28 PM EST
    not college as I recall. No one was still smoking Mexican in college.

    that's b/c all the Mexican was presumed (none / 0) (#12)
    by scribe on Sun Mar 16, 2008 at 04:00:42 PM EST
    to be full of herbicide.  Not for nothing that college kids are alleged to be "smart"....

    "Psychobabble" it surely contains (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by scribe on Sun Mar 16, 2008 at 03:35:55 PM EST
    The other week, one of the radio programs I listen to had an interview with a woman psychologist who worked in intelligence on doping out Hitler's psyche.  Her remark:  "Psychobabble is what one hears from people with no knowledge of psychiatry (or psychology) when they try to talk about it."

    Maybe Spitzer had a tough family upbringing - tough in ways one might not immediately appreciate as being "tough".  

    But, he wanted to get caught.  Pure and simple.  

    Escort agencies are cop magnets;  if one is to believe what is written elsewhere, a lot won't take politicians simply because they are too much trouble, draw too much trouble, or both.  That Spitzer found one which would take a politician - a high-profile one at that - tells us something about the risk-taking he and the agency were both engaged in.  That the agency he wound up with would do all the other things alleged - advertise on the internet, ship a woman across state lines, talk about sex and shipping it across state lines in texts and phone calls, set up a dummy company at a non-existent address (65 Wall Street, where QAT had its offices, is an address which does not exist), let the dummy company slide into inactive status and still accept wire transfers, etc., etc., is not really surprising that they got caught so easily.

    Why he wanted to get caught?  Who knows.  I doubt even he does.

    But, at least he won't have to be miserable in the Governor's job any more.

    My armchair psychoanalysis ... (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by Robot Porter on Sun Mar 16, 2008 at 03:38:45 PM EST
    is that he was unable to figure out a way to fix his political problems so he engaged in some self-destructive behavior.

    And, in a way, it worked.  He was found out.  And he no longer has any political problems, because he no longer has a political career.

    What a disappointment (5.00 / 1) (#10)
    by Universal on Sun Mar 16, 2008 at 03:56:06 PM EST
    Very, very disappointed in him and I feel bad for his family.

    I'm from NJ and I feel keen disappointment that (5.00 / 1) (#18)
    by jawbone on Sun Mar 16, 2008 at 04:09:43 PM EST
    Spitzer was making some pretty dumb rookie mistakes as governor--but I had hope he would figure things out and get back to reforming Albany and watching out for consumer rights, etc.  

    I did hear one prosecutor say Spitzer is an example of why prosecutors don't necessarily make good government executives. Not sure what he meant exactly--aggressiveness? Not having to compromise? .

    I agree--disappointed for what Spitzer's win seemed to promise and such sadness for his family, his state, his party, and for him as well.

    Watching some meteoric rises in politics and then some crash and burns is not making me any more confident Obama will do well as a president--or even party nominee. But that's just gut feeling...


    Evan Thomas. (5.00 / 2) (#11)
    by inclusiveheart on Sun Mar 16, 2008 at 03:59:11 PM EST
    On the "morals" stories as usual.

    There has been a disturbing trend that has surfaced in this story where a bunch of completely untrained people have been diagnosing Spitzer with all kinds of mental illnesses.

    To the point where anyone it seems who has an appetite for sex is probably suffering from some sort of mental defect.  So the whole world's crazy - what elese is new?

    My dad was a child psychiatrist (5.00 / 1) (#13)
    by akaEloise on Sun Mar 16, 2008 at 04:03:16 PM EST
    trained as a Freudian analyst.  So as you can imagine, I'm massively screwed up! :)
    I agree with that having had a demanding parent hardly makes an adult more or less likely to hire hookers. Here's my guess, if you'll indulge some very amateur psychoanalysis. Some combination of upbringing, character, and experience made Spitzer very unwilling to accept nuances of behavior -- certainly he had a rigid concept of right and wrong. So, he wasn't comfortable with acknowledging anything a little out of the ordinary in his sexual desires and negotiating it, either in the context of his marriage, or in an affair with anyone who would expect to have a relationship with him outside of bed.  It was easier for him to separate the two; to maintain his image as Mr. Buttoned-down Normal with everyone in the world who knew him as Eliot Spitzer.  The people who knew him as "George Fox" or Client #9 or whatever other names he used, didn't touch the part of his self-image that he considered his "good" self.   I think, too, that on some subconscious level he wanted to be caught because he felt he deserved to be punished. Unfortunately, the voters of the state of New York and the Democratic Party as a whole didn't deserve it.  

    How about... he's human (5.00 / 1) (#16)
    by dianem on Sun Mar 16, 2008 at 04:06:56 PM EST
    Human beings do stupid things. We say stupid things. We do things that are not in our best interests. We let power go to our heads. We get angry when we shouldn't. That is why we should be more tolerant of human frailties in general - because any of us might find ourselves in Spitzer's position, on some level, and in need of mercy. Spitzer's flaw was his intolerance toward the frailties of others. He didn't actually hurt anybody but his wife and himself. It's a shame we take such pleasure in seeing the high an mighty taken down.

    Hurting his wife and 3 daughters (5.00 / 1) (#20)
    by shoephone on Sun Mar 16, 2008 at 04:14:46 PM EST
    is monumental, as far as I'm concerned. And that's probabaly the reason most women (myself included) have loathed this story.

    A waste of time, but my two cents (5.00 / 1) (#21)
    by Dadler on Sun Mar 16, 2008 at 04:30:36 PM EST
    All this early "biography" tells me is that it seems like genuine emotion and human connection were not fostered during his upbringing.  And if you never learn those skills, you're likely to find yourself in relationships that do not work.  Why do prostitutes always report that many of the men "just want to talk"?  Because most of these guys never learned HOW to talk or express with a person they are close to -- wife, fater, mother, siblings, etc.

    That said, enough is enough.  Get it out of the limelight and into the lemonlight.

    Putting on my armchair psychologist cap (5.00 / 1) (#23)
    by stillife on Sun Mar 16, 2008 at 05:13:18 PM EST
    I think it has something to do with the male Type A personality.  Risk-taking, arrogance, power-tripping and believing you're above the rules.

    That said, I'm sad about Spitzer.  I liked his policies, I voted for him, and I think his downfall is tragic in the classic sense - a man with so much potential who proved to be his own worst enemy.

    More crappy psychological analysis (5.00 / 1) (#24)
    by Korha on Sun Mar 16, 2008 at 05:26:41 PM EST
    It'd be something if Evan Thomas had produced this analysis this before Spitzer went down--of course, he probably wouldn't have because you can draw a number of equally plausible narratives from someone's past. I don't have too much respect for this sort of "hindsight is 20/20" retrospective.

    I agree with the power thing (5.00 / 1) (#25)
    by BarnBabe on Sun Mar 16, 2008 at 05:40:33 PM EST
    find it more likely he got drunk with the power of being Governor and thought he was invincible. Today he knows differently. It's just too easy to blame the parents.

    I understand we are all human and have fantasies, but I never understand why intelligent men in power and easily exposed are willing to make such a mistake that ends their powerful position. And just for once I wish they would not make the wife stand up there next to him. Why make them suffer more for the rather stupid mistake. I think he has some mental problems as the sex was becoming a drug, but that can not be blamed on the parents. I hope he does not go jail either as he is not the first one caught in this predicament.

    "Speaking for me only" (none / 0) (#14)
    by zyx on Sun Mar 16, 2008 at 04:03:44 PM EST
    Not just at this website, but generally--does it seem that mostly men and not women want to talk about this kind of scandal?

    Really, I am curious.  I feel badly for Spitzer's wife and kids, and have a "ick" feeling generally, and am rather horrified at the political price he is paying--but after that, I don't wanna hear any more.

    And (none / 0) (#15)
    by zyx on Sun Mar 16, 2008 at 04:05:06 PM EST
    I'm not really reading the comments--just noting that there are not very many.  <g>

    i think decon more or less nailed it (none / 0) (#22)
    by cpinva on Sun Mar 16, 2008 at 04:50:47 PM EST
    (pun very intentional!): maybe he was just horny and wanted some strange? sorry ladies, but the stud bull isn't mating with the same cow every day. lol

    yes, i am going to hell, but i do plan on enjoying the ride. :)

    all of the nonsensical psycho-babble is pretty much that, nonsensical psycho-babble, not even worthy of dignifying by comment.

    i do have one question for Jeralyn, TL, BTD or any of the other lawyers hiding in the shadows: isn't the Mann Act violative on its face? it refers specifically to only women, which strikes me as a clear violation of the equal protection clause.

    or has this already been tossed by some earlier SCt.?

    That's an interesting question. (none / 0) (#29)
    by Deconstructionist on Mon Mar 17, 2008 at 06:55:38 AM EST
     I've never handled a Mann Act case (I have had a few state level cases involving various facets of prostititution) so I've never really examined the state of the law with respect to it, or really even thought much about it.

      One important factor against the argument is that the Mann Act does not apply only to men in terms of being offenders, so a woman could be prosecuted for transporting another woman. Whether a court would strike down a Mann Act prosecution on equal protection grounds based on the argument  the law demnies  EP because the law would not encompass the transport of a male is questionable but now that you've raised the point, I think it's an argument at least worth making.

       Clearly, and for good reason, a law does not have to address an entire problem or every conceivable permutation of it or encompass all conduct which is similar in terms of harms etc., but an argument at least would exist where the basis for for creating a class is based on a suspect class distinction (even in reverse).


    One of the things that bothers me (none / 0) (#28)
    by rhomp2002 on Sun Mar 16, 2008 at 08:55:46 PM EST
    I realize that Eliot spitzer acted like a creep to his family in this issue.  I wonder why, if he were going to do this at all, he would use the name of a very close friend without even bothering to ask permission.  This is telling me that not only was he a creep to his family, but he was also a creep to his close friends.  What kind of low-life does that to a friend.  Assume that there were complaints about what happened on the parts of the escort.  The agency would look for a George Fox to get it resolved and presto, wrong schmuck!  

    Looking at this in the light of what he did but also in the light of the Bruno situation (talk about chuptzpah!!) and all the charges that were dropped and dismissed that he brought against the executives he investigated without his saying a word in support of what he initially commented on the cases, it sounds to me as if a psychotherapist has a lucrative future just figuring this nutter out.

    I think he was being logical.... (none / 0) (#30)
    by kdog on Mon Mar 17, 2008 at 10:37:05 AM EST
    he was horny, he wanted to mess around, and figured a pro would be his best bet to get laid without any potentially embarrassing entanglements.  After Bill Clinton, he wouldn't wanna make a pass at an intern or someone in his work circle.  And it's not like he could go to a club and try to hook up, lest he get caught on a camera phone.  That leaves a pro.

    But the best laid plans of mice and men....

    kdog, just to set your facts straight, (none / 0) (#31)
    by cpinva on Mon Mar 17, 2008 at 04:14:29 PM EST
    monica lewinsky was not an intern when she and bill clinton engaged in their "activity". nor, was she an employee of pres. clinton's. as well, she was nearly 22 at the time, and she admittedly pursued him, not vice versa.

    while this doesn't make his behaviour any less stupid, it was hardly coercive or illegal.