Monday, March 10, 2008

It's Not "Private" If There Are Laws Against It

Thus endeth the political career of the Governor of my fair state. Alas, Spitzer, we hardly knew thee.

I always liked him, too.

Aside from the sorrow in seeing a potentially potent progressive politician fall, and aside from the overwhelming sense of how can people in power be such !@#$%ing idiots!?!, there seems to me to be one other pertinent issue here.

According to the Times, Spitzer
...made a brief public appearance during which he apologized for his behavior, and described it as a “private matter.” “I have acted in a way that violates my obligation to my family and violates my or any sense of right or wrong,” said Mr. Spitzer...
Except, of course, it's not a private matter. It's not merely simply something that violates his obligation to his family and sense of right or wrong.

Hiring a prostitute is against the law.

You can't say something is "private" when the state enforces laws against it.*

Now, it seems to me that there is a damn good argument that it ought to be private. It is that sense that this is none of our business that Spitzer is -- understandably -- appealing to. Buzz off, he's saying.

And if he campaigned against these laws, rather than enforcing them personally (see the Times story), he might have a point.

But there's no justification for a powerful politician being able to say it's "private" if other people who break these laws are thrown in jail for it.

(And in this case this is heaped on top of the ongoing sexism of the enforcement of anti-prostitution laws, in which the (poor) prostitutes are prosecuted but the (rich) johns are not.)

This is just like the issue of drug laws: Obama, Newt Gingrich, and a host of other politicians all admit to having used drugs in the past. Fine and good: I don't care. But we shouldn't be locking up some people for what others are given a pass for. That's not justice: it's a war on the lower classes.

Right now prostitution isn't a private matter. Maybe it should be. I might well vote to make it one given the chance (I haven't thought about it much, so my mind could be swayed, but that's the way I'd lean.) Perhaps it really ought to be private. I'd certainly respect people who made that argument.

But Spitzer isn't saying, really, that it's private. He's saying that for people like him, it's private. And that is just a minor example of a far more pervasive rot in our country -- the idea that laws and the penalties for violating them only apply to the little people. Not to the new aristocrats.

If you think it shouldn't be illegal, fine. But if you think it should be illegal, everyone -- men and women, whores and johns, governors and everybodyelse -- should be treated the same.

Anything else is -- as someone said in a different context -- "a violation of... any sense of right or wrong."

Emphasis added.

* Update: As I trust should be obvious to anyone who reads this post, let alone knows my position on other issues, the sentence "You can't say something is 'private' when the state enforces laws against it" is only true in a sense. Obviously there are a lot of things that are private, and ought to be purely private, that the state nevertheless meddles in. The point here is that Spitzer himself prosecuted these laws, and was in a position to change (or at least advocate for changing) them. And thus the "private" comment rubbed me the wrong way. But lots of things are (ideally) private, and thus things one might say (indignantly) "that's private!" that are, in fact, not (alas) treated that way.

And it is also unfair for politicians to expect not to be prosecuted for laws that they support when less powerful people are prosecuted. If you think the law is wrong, advocate for it to be changed for everyone; if not, obey the damn thing yourself. (Again, the drug laws here are the prime example.)

The point here is against a dual standard, one for the rich & powerful (& usually male), and one for everyone else -- not against privacy, which I (obviously) think is important regardless of what the law says.

...Ok, all clear? (I think it always was, but it was pointed out to me that, out of context, that sentence might be read the wrong way...)

Update 2: Matt Yglesias makes the same point here, more succinctly.

Update 3: For that matter, I was probably unconsciously echoing here this post from

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