Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Husbands, wives and lovers


How could he?

Oh, I get the call-girl thing, the other-woman thing, in the Eliot Spitzer case. Many of our outsized political leaders are—what's that strange and understated phrase we use in these situations today?—"not perfect."

I'm no longer shocked or disappointed because the straying politician becomes entangled with mistresses or prostitutes or who knows what for the same reason he plunged into politics in the first place: to fill the bottomless hole in his soul. A hole that's still there after the crowd heads home, the election is won, the legislative victory is achieved, the flattering media notices read and re-read. The infidelity comes with the territory.

I even get the self-destructive, stupid behavior on gaudy display in Spitzer's call-girl capers. It's the flip side of unchecked, king-of-the-universe arrogance, which he possessed in biblical quantities. How fitting that the prostitution ring S�itzer dialed up was called the Emperors Club VIP.

And I certainly get the need for the Spitzer news conferences Monday and Wednesday after it became clear that this emperor had no clothes.

But how could the New York governor haul his wife, Silda, before the cameras to stand there, mute, while he read his statements. Not content to betray his wife of 20 years and the mother of his three teenage girls, not content to embarrass her by getting caught up in a sex-for-cash scandal, Spitzer humiliated her by using her as nothing more than a prop, a potted plant, at his little news conferences.

How could he?

Something like this must fall under New York state's spousal-abuse statutes.

Having the wife up there on stage, standing by her accused man at these soap-opera news conferences is now standard and distasteful enough. Even if she's forgiven her man (Louisiana Sen. David Vitter). Even if she and hubby dispute the allegations (Idaho Sen. and Mrs. Larry Craig). Even if she thinks the charges are the product of some vast, right-wing conspiracy (Hillary Clinton). But if a wife wants to stand by her man or defend him in his time of need—no, not that time of need—fine. If she has something to say about the charges or their marriage that might help the public sort through the real or alleged news, fair enough. They're big girls.

But there was something creepy, something raw and cruel, about Spitzer's two news conferences. His wife was present, but only as a piece of scenery in his "Eliot Ness becomes Eliot Mess" production. She stood next to him and said nothing.

Not once, but twice.

As a visual, Silda Wall Spitzer last week was less the picture of the devoted spouse than the shell-shocked wife. Sunken eyes, swollen face, clenched jaw. The sad, distant look. The washed out, shattered bearing.

How could he?

Nor did my own outrage dampen after reading in The New York Times that early this week she was urging her husband not to resign. I still think Eliot Spitzer was engaged in serial spousal abuse in having her on stage next to him when the story first broke and (again!) when he announced his resignation.

I suppose some might argue in Spitzer's behalf that his wife perhaps knew what was up years ago, that she and her husband had resolved his extra-marital dealings to their mutual satisfaction, and she didn't want to leave him high and dry as a result. Perhaps there was some kind of "arrangement" or "understanding." Perhaps, but Silda Spitzer certainly didn't act that way Monday.

Or, maybe she simply wanted to be there by his side to offer support. What politician wouldn't want the support of a willing wife at a time like this? Please, Spitzer should have had the decency to insist that she stay home and comfort their three daughters. As a husband and father, he should have manned up. As a former prosecutor, Spitzer should have recognized the characteristics of Stockholm syndrome—a hostage coming to identify with her captor—and handled these engagements on his own.

After all, Eliot Spitzer—New York's late, great emperor—had been more than willing to handle the engagements that got him into this mess on his own.

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