Cocktail hour among the chattering class is particularly entertaining this summer as they parse the lives of disgraced politicians seeking to be reborn. Of particular note is former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner, who is seeking to replace outgoing mayor Michael Bloomberg, and former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer who, at the last moment, decided to cast his hat into the ring for city controller.
Both men fell from the tops of their political careers in the most ignominious manner possible. Mr. Weiner could not resist the need to Tweet pictures of himself in sexually suggestive ways to various women — and most likely without his wife’s permission. It’s difficult to hear the name without unwanted mental images flashing to the forefront.
And he leads the polls for the Big Apple’s next mayor?
Mr. Spitzer’s fall came courtesy of a prostitution scandal in which he was referred to as “Client 9.” He was alleged to have spent over $80,000 to employ the services of prostitutes over a number of years. The so-called “sheriff of Wall Street” could corral the misdeeds of others, just not his own.
Now, he says he feels the need to be “of service” to the people of New York City.
This, of course, invites the judgment of others. Why it is, they ask, that Mr. Weiner and Mr. Spitzer cannot bow out gracefully and stay out? Why the lure to the public spotlight, much like the lure of the moth to the flame?
Examples abound, they say, of officials similarly disgraced who did the right thing, which was to seek value elsewhere, and not the top rung of the political ladder.
That’s no doubt true. But it’s irrelevant.
Those who pick the less public path do so of their own volition. That’s not necessarily a reflection of the public’s values, or the decisions we reward.
In fact, we’d argue the opposite.
Our value system rewards the one who reaches for self-glory more than it does the one seeking values of an intrinsic nature.
Intrinsic values are ones that are self-contained, they are ends in themselves. There is no need for public throngs to celebrate the victories. There is no need for public recognition. The work brings with it all the recognition necessary. Being elected mayor, or controller, is not an end in itself.
But do we celebrate these choices of intrinsic value, or do we learn about them much, much later and are remiss in our belated thanks?
Mr. Sptizer and Mr. Weiner are running again because we lavish upon them the attention they need. We have created an entire culture based on the need for public adoration, and there is only a degree of separation from this need and our culture of power.
Consider, for example, that the state with the highest per capita income is — no surprise — Connecticut, which leads all other states with $57,900.
But Connecticut falls $16,000 short of Washington, D.C. — which is not a state, but the seat of the nation’s government. The per capita income in the nation’s capital is close to $74,000. (Vermont’s is $41,600.)
If Henry Kissinger was correct when he said that power was the “ultimate aphrodisiac,” then we have our answer to why it is that the corrupted, in Icarus fashion, put on their waxen wings, ignore the wise man’s counsel, and flirt with the heat of the sun’s rays.
They do so because that’s where they see the greater reward, a reward backed by our culture.
When we champion the ego, that’s what we receive.
That will change when we begin to celebrate the deed done and not the doer of the deed.
But that does little to promote the cocktail chatter. It’s much more fun to talk about people and their many dysfunctions. So we will continue with the Weiners and Spitzers.