Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Decency

While much of the national media (mainstream and otherwise) is chewing on the hypocrisy that ended New York Governor Eliot Spitzer's once-promising political career, I think that there is a more important lesson to be learned.

As Attorney General of the state of New York, Spitzer was a high profile enforcer of decency against corporate America. Having styled himself as a demanding reformer, he came to the state house in New York prepared to reform Albany's political system. It's a system badly in need of reform and Spitzer, a Democrat elected with a huge mandate (he won 70% of the vote in 2006), was determined to lead the change.

But he seemed to regard his electoral mandate as a license for arrogance. He deliberately alienated many of the members of the New York state legislature (on both sides of the aisle) and made no effort to build alliances with his fellow Democrats. That alienation was patently clear in the last 48 hours as the resounding silence of Spitzer's fellow Democrats was heard loud and clear: they would not put themselves on the line to defend Spitzer, a governor whom they found to be both autocratic and mean-spirited.

And who can blame them? Elected officials want to like and respect the people with whom they work; they want to work together to accomplish the goals of the organization. That's the case for all of us, I expect. In politics, a business predicated on the notion of doing better for the community, it is essential for elected officials to like and respect one another, no matter how much they disagree ideologically. From that foundation, political change can be accomplished (for example, President George H.W. Bush's 1989 budget deal, a bipartisan act of fiscal responsibility that helped usher in the prosperity of the 1990s ). Without it, there is animosity and partisanship that does not serve the public good. We may have a government, but it doesn't govern us well. I'm not saying that elected officials should not disagree. They do and they should. But they must disagree respectfully.

So in the end, sad as these circumstances must be for his family, it's a good thing for New York that Eliot Spitzer will no longer be the governor of the state. I may have liked his political views, but I did not like his style. The business of governing requires cooperation and compromise. Political officials who are liked and respected can do a lot for the people. And we should demand that level of decency in all of the people we elect.

1 comment:

Sharkb said...

It's too bad he had to learn compromise by compromising his family.