The Schadenfreude of Spitzer

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For you non- German speakers out there, Schadenfreude (sha-den-froy-duh) means to take pleasure in the pain of others. There’s been quite a lot of schadenfreude going about this week.

From the BBC to Reuters, the LA Times to the Washington Post, each media outlet has their own particular barb to throw at the Anti-Corruption Superhero turned Pervy-Scumbag Eliot Spitzer.

After I wrote my first article in which I too indulged in the name-calling and mud-slinging, I began to wonder: Why? Why are we all so happy to “Get” this guy?

He’s the guy you love to hate and hate to love

During his political career, first as NY Attorney General (1999-2006) and then as Govenor (2007- March 14, 2008), Spitzer became well known as the guy who said it like he saw it… and then some.

Despite this however, in a state known for its’ heavily corrupt political machines and in the post-Enron environment, many saw Spitzer as a real life crime-fighting hero.

As Attorney General, Spitzer delighted in taking down the big guys of white-collar crime.

In March 2005, his investigation into some shady business practices of AIG, the world’s second largest business conglomerate, led to the fall of its CEO Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, the 59th richest man in the US.

He also took on the former Chairman of the New York Stock Exchange (which is a not-for profit organization by the way) CEO Richard Grasso. In 2003, while still Chairman, Grasso got the NYSE to cash out his $140 million in pension money. While the ensuing scandal resulted in his resignation, in 2004, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer filed a lawsuit against Grasso to get back the money.

While such actions seem downright Robin Hood-esque, he received criticism for his methods. CNBC quotes Peter Wallison, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute as stating,

“We never knew whether what he was showing us was in fact an example of corruption throughout the company or whether it was simply one or two people –. All we know is that the companies felt they had to settle with him quickly because their reputations were being destroyed.”

His political enemies received the same sort of treatment.

A 2007 article in New York Magazine examined Spitzer’s famous temper. Soon after he took office, Spitzer yelled at Republican minority leader, James Tedisco:

“I’m a f**king steamroller, and I’ll roll over you.”

In another notorious episode, he told Billy Magnarelli’s home paper that, “Bill Magnarelli is one of those unfortunate Assembly members who just raises his hand when he’s told to do so”. To the interviewer, Spitzer defended this, stating, “It fits into a larger rationale, which is that we believe in accountability.”

He’s beginning to sound like my 9th grade tennis coach whose rational was that if you embarrass someone enough they’ll suddenly get it right. (I’ve had a hatred of tennis every since).

Ironically, Spitzer told the interviewer,

“The cliché is, ‘You went to Albany as one of us, you came back as one of them,’ […] I’m not coming back as one of them.”

Schadenfreude… it clearly goes both ways. By all accounts, Spitzer seems to have thrived off of it. Dramatically closing down prostitution rings, facing off with finance moguls, showing political elites whose boss… It seems fair to say that Spitzer enjoyed making others feel small.

It’s now his turn.

The superhero, morality crusader, crime-fighting governor, a.k.a. Client-9, a guy willing to pay thousands of dollars for “high-end” prostitutes through an online service. Busted by the Feds and humiliated before all. How much smaller can one feel?

In his resignation statement, he makes it clear that he understands the depth of anger felt towards him:

“From those to whom much is given, much is expected. I have been given much: the love of my family, the faith and trust of the people of New York and the chance to lead this state. I am deeply sorry that I did not live up to what was expected of me. Over the course of my public life, I have insisted — I believe correctly — that people regardless of their position or power take responsibility for their conduct. I can and will ask no less of myself. For this reason, I am resigning from the office of governor.”

Farewell Robin Hood… sigh…why couldn’t you have been satisfied with Maid Marian?

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