by Conor Friedersdorf
What I never realized about Elliot Spitzer is that the escort whose name we all learned, Ashley Dupre, is someone with whom he only slept once its a different escort who he hired regularly, she is now a commodities trader, and the recently released documentary about Spitzer's rise and fall manages to include an on the record interview with her. All things considered, I enjoyed the film. Its thesis is basically that the former New York governor's powerful enemies helped orchestrate his downfall, and that the investigation into his hooker habit may well have been politically motivated. The evidence presented is circumstantial but persuasively put. Is that what really happened? I have no idea. Spitzer says he brought about his own downfall. And that is definitely true, whatever else transpired.
For understandable narrative reasons, the documentary focuses on Spitzer's least sympathetic critics. We hear lots of people accuse him of being a power mad bully. Most are wealthy Wall Street figures accused of illegal or unethical behavior that puts them in a very bad light. Ask around New York state and you'll hear from less powerful, more sympathetic people with Spitzer horror stories from his days as attorney general. I understand why those stories were beyond the scope of the film. But I wouldn't have minded an allusion to them.
And I wish the film had taken up a question that I thought about when the story broke. Like many Americans, I'm beyond sex scandals. It seems to me that they're so common in politics, so inevitable, that the associated investigations and resignations are more trouble than they're worth. Frankly I don't even care that Spitzer broke the law by hiring an escort. What I do care about is the wildly expensive addiction he apparently developed. In that sense, the egregious behavior of Bill Clinton blow jobs in the Oval Office, for shame are less worrying from a good governance standpoint. He didn't have to come up with any money for Monica Lewinsky. Whereas I'm curious about how much total money Spitzer spent, and for how long he could afford to keep spending at those rates. Would it ever have reached a point where financial corruption was required to keep his call girl habit going?
Interestingly, my moral judgment on the question of who is worse Clinton or Spitzer is flipped. Both cheated on their wives. It's a tie there. But an educated $10,000 per day escort has a lot of agency. These aren't the prostitutes who are forced to be in that position. Whereas an intern and an ultimate boss more than twice her age? Bill Clinton knowingly used her, and at minumum risked doing long term emotional damage. Interesting how, for their respective sex scandals alone, some politicians remain beloved while others are thought of us callous jerks. Judgments about which label better fits who vary.
While these are the questions that interest me, the film's decision to focus elsewhere is a perfectly defensible narrative choice, and I enjoyed the product. Almost two hours long, it seemed to go by a lot quicker than that as I watched, it unearthed new information, it impressed in getting so many involved parties to talk on camera Spitzer himself included and if you're interested in this case or documentaries about contemporary politics generally, I'd recommend Client 9 for your Netflix cue.
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