Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Bill, that is, not Hillary. I am sure that I have missed it, but I haven't seen anyone comparing the misdeeds of these two chief executives. Clinton engaged in sex with an intern and then lied about it under oath. Spitzer engaged in sex with a prostitute, which is illegal. Which one is worse? Spitzer gets the boot, and Clinton is a hero to a lot of people. I know there are distinctions, but what are the morally and legally relevant ones? Here is one: Many people believe that prostitution should be legal; no one believes that perjury should be legal.
Update: I now see that there has been some commentary comparing Clinton and Spitzer. My colleague Orly Lobel has written "But still, there are worse things people do in
positions of power than use their private bank account to spend an
evening with a girl away from home. I for one think that a powerful married
political hitting on a subordinate in his office is worse than paying
someone arranged by an agency." Of course, I was talking about that perjury thing.
But Orly's comments are interesting. Are there worse things than spending an evening with a call girl away from home? Of course. My guess, from what I know about Spitzer's behavior as Attorney General, is that he did lots of worse things on the job. Moreover, as my wife pointed out to me this morning, what was worse was that he shamed and harmed his wife and three daughters, and of course is now likely to lose his job. Of course, that is not the result of sleeping with the call girl, it is the result of getting caught.
Orly also raises something interesting things about sexual arousal and decisionmaking:
In their article, Heat of the Moment: The Effect of Sexual Arousal on Sexual Decision Making, Ariely and Loewenstein state that it is odd that little research has been conducted on the impact of sexual arousal on judgment. Through research, they find that as aroused participants’ interest in procuring sex increased, willingness to use morally questionable methods to obtain the sex increased and probability of using protection decreased.
This is interesting, but unless I misunderstand the research, it is not relevant. I don't think Spitzer was aroused when he arranged the call girl date, of if he was, the arousal no doubt subsided before their meeting. It is not as if he was at a hotel bar, met a sexy women, and then brought her up to his room. If we are speculating, my guess is that Spitzer had a power rush. He has been elected governor and has had a rising political career. He is arrogant and self satisfied. He feels he is is entitled to and can get away with anything. Not arousal, but hubris.
Or maybe this is the result of being a powerful man. (Of course, I can only speculate about that.) Consider this: "It is likely that the maintenance of the high serotonin levels, a brain chemical found to be elevated in “Alpha Males,” requires frequent ego feeding. A sure way to kick up serotonin is through the dopamine-enhanced interest of a new lover. Considering that new lovers are largely interesting while they’re new, maintaining high serotonin levels demands sexual variety." I would guess high end prostitutes fit the bill, as well.
Maybe. Or maybe he is just a cad, who had been doing this all along, even before he became AG.
Further Update: Wow. Orly wrote that comment as I was responding to her. Another case of simultaneous posting!
Another Update: Orin Kerr comments on this post, arguing that Spitzer is worse than Clinton. Kerr interprets me as claiming that Clinton was worse. I had not intended to make that claim. I was genuinely asking the question who was worse. But upon rereading the post, I certainly agree it was reasonable for Orin to interpret it as he did.
Orin makes some good points, although I don't agree with all of them. Orin says that people knew about Clinton's affairs already, but he had denied the Flowers affair during the campaign. Moreover, the Flowers affair didn't prepare them for his lying under oath. Also, I am not so sure that the fact that the Paula Jones lawsuit was brought by enemies of the President matters if Clinton did the actions he was accused of.
The biggest difference, though, between the two relates to the differences between the President and a governor. The Presidency is the single most visible and powerful office in the United States. I am sure that many people in New York who don't know who the governor is know who the President is. Having a President who lies under oath is therefore a much greater cost to the country. It is more visible. It makes people more cynical about the system. It is a greater betrayal of trust.
But I don't mean to be arguing that Clinton is worse. Really. I haven't made up my mind. But this much is certainly true. Spitzer is a hundred times more of a hypocrite than Clinton.
Hopefully the last update: I was reading through some of the comments to Orin's post and some do appear to have the wrong impression. So let me make this clear: While I believed that Clinton did commit an impeachable offense, I did not believe that the Republicans should have impeached him.