Ambrose: Spitzer has been abusing public office

Eliot Spitzer, elected governor of New York in 2006 as a reformer, was himself desperately, painfully in need of reform, despite the contrary impression left by lick-spittle press coverage. Now guess what? His administration has been caught wallowing in dirt, and news stories are saying oh, dear, isn’t this astonishing?

Well, no, it is not astonishing, not when you consider that, as attorney general of New York, Spitzer was an ethical horror, a mean-spirited, reckless opportunist who abused extraordinary powers of criminal prosecution to wrest civil settlements in weak cases.

Not when you consider how he ruined lives that way, and cost shareholders huge sums, of how he bullied people, made ordinary business practices seem like thievery and winked at the exactitudes of the law and prohibitions of the U.S. Constitution.

Because it is their ideological, inane prejudice that you must be A-OK if you are kicking big business in the shins, any number of major media outlets nevertheless pronounced Spitzer a hero while paying relatively scant attention to his habit of looking the other way when his friends and pet causes were accused of crossing legal lines.

They did not seem to care all that much, either, about such shenanigans as Spitzer’s earnest work to get $13,000 an hour for lawyers who sued tobacco companies and later found a way to repay their benefactor: contributions to his campaign fund.

Thanks in large part to the portrayal of him as the curse of evil powers on Wall Street, Spitzer won his campaign to be governor with something more than ease and thus had brand-new chances to swing a wrecking ball at opponents who got in his way. One of those was Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, whose failure to curtsy to all Spitzer’s wishes was to have state police spy on him for purposes of smearing his reputation.

Spitzer said it was aides at fault, not he himself, and maybe that’s true, just as it may also be true that he himself had nothing to do with the alleged threat of an aide to end the career of a board member of the Public Service Commission if she didn’t vote in accord with administration wishes.

But Spitzer has a track record as attorney general, and it is being exemplified by his administration in Albany in ways that range from attempting official favors for friends to political manipulation that goes far beyond the bounds.

Does any of this matter to people outside New York? Yes, and for several reasons:

» Spitzer’s actions as attorney general abridged the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, affecting businesses in states besides New York, and other attorneys general are playing the same game. It’s economically and legally important to end this.

» This politician was able to ride one set of outrages to the governor’s chair, and could well ride another set to the presidency if the shouts are insufficiently loud.

» The press is ordinarily pretty good at picking up on certain kinds of political transgressions, but hardly ever on certain others. It can be blinded by its adulation of those who are supposedly protecting common folks against big, strong corporate muscle, even when such an interpretation is pure bunkum. Every now and then, someone ought to say as much.

Examiner columnist Jay Ambrose is a former editor of two daily newspapers. He may be reached at SpeaktoJay@aol.com

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