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The Washington conundrum

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I read an interesting piece recently on New York’s former governor, Eliot Spitzer.

Now I’m sure most folks in Ellis County could give a darn about some disgraced New York governor, but in this case it’s really interesting.

And, Robert Tracinski did a marvelous job getting to the heart of what went wrong in Spitzer’s case.

Just in the event you haven’t heard anything about Governor Spitzer, a little review might just be in order.

Spitzer was born and raised in the Bronx borough of New York City to real estate tycoon Bernard Spitzer and Anne Spitzer, an English literature professor.

He attended Princeton University for his undergraduate studies and Harvard University for law school.

While working at the Manhattan district attorney’s office, headed by Robert M. Morgenthau, he pursued organized crime and launched the investigation that brought down the Gambino family’s control over Manhattan’s garment and trucking industries.

In the 1998 election, Spitzer was elected by a slim margin to become New York State Attorney General. His campaign was financed largely in by a controversial multi-million dollar loan from his father. As attorney general, Spitzer prosecuted cases relating to corporate white collar crime, securities fraud, internet fraud and environmental protection.

Being in the insurance industry I became aware of him when he was New York’s Attorney General and brought down his wrath on some very big players in the insurance business.

Among them were the world’s largest insurance broker, Marsh & McLennan, along with Hank Greenberg, Chairman and CEO of American International Group (AIG), a giant insurance conglomerate.

Spitzer caught Marsh & McLennan basically rigging insurance bids on some of its largest clients, deciding who was going to write the insurance account, and arranging for some other insurance companies to "come in second" in return for being in first place on some others.

It was all pretty nasty, sleazy, and not-too-ethical stuff. There were a lot of insurance companies who worked with Marsh got caught in the same trap. If they wanted to play in accounts that paid in excess of one or two million dollars a year in premiums, then they had to play Marsh’s game. Hank Greenberg and AIG were some of the biggest fish to get fried.

Hank had to resign. However, some of the other major insurers got singed badly as well.

It led to a lot of soul searching in the business.

At the same time, Spitzer was hard on the heels of several prostitution rings in the New York area and prosecuted them remorselessly.

It seems his hypocrisy knew no bounds, because as he was prosecuting prostitution rings he was also a "john" of one of them.

In 2006, Spitzer was elected governor of New York. During his time in office, he proposed a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in New York and issued an executive order allowing illegal aliens to be issued driver’s licenses, which both attracted controversy. In July 2007, he was admonished for his administration’s involvement in ordering the State Police to record the whereabouts of State Senate majority leader Joseph L. Bruno.

Spitzer’s sand castle, however, came crashing down when the New York Times reported he had patronized a high-priced prostitution service, the Emperor’s Club VIP and paid up to $80,000 over a period of years for prostitutes, including time when he was Attorney General.

He was caught when his bank reported to the Feds suspicious financial transactions which could be hiding bribes.

Turns out he was merely hiding his payments to prostitutes from his wife.

Spitzer, in short, was a bully who reveled in creating a state of terror among his subjects so they would grovel before a tyrannical emperor.

But Mr. Tracinski makes an important point.

He says Eliot Spitzer is a timeless example of the basic problem of government.

That’s the fact anyone who really wants to wield power is, by that very fact, the last person who should be allowed to do so.

He calls this the "Washington Conundrum," named for George Washington, who was probably the first man in history to demonstrate that the only person who can safely be allowed to wield power is someone who seeks it out of dedication to the cause of liberty.

He goes on to say, take away the love of liberty and power attracts, rewards and promotes the most corrupt types of individuals.

According to Mr. Tracinski: "Without the love of liberty, we don’t get George Washingtons in public office. Instead we get the Emperor Club VIPs – self-aggrandizing thugs like Eliot Spitzer."

If we in Ellis County really think about it, we can remember and think of some of those self-aggrandizing thugs who really have an interest only in power, not in liberty.

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