Tuesday, March 11, 2008

In the Eliot Spitzer Melt-Down, Who Was the Real Loser?

Ned Barnett © 2008

Note: I've been invited to discuss this blog - about Eliot Spitzer's meltdown - on Fox Business at 6 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday, March 12th ...

Conventional wisdom has already identified either New York Governor Eliot Spitzer’s career ambitions – or, if the commentator is more of a humanist than a political commentator, Mrs. Spitzer and their three girls – as the real loser in Spitzer’s melt-down.

However, politically at least, they’re wrong. Politically, the real loser isn’t Eliot, his political career – or his family. The real loser is … Senator Hillary Clinton.

That loss is not because Governor Spitzer is one of Senator Clinton’s increasingly desperately-needed super-delegates. And it’s not because someone in the media (if not in Senator Obama’s campaign) will almost certainly call on her to repudiate Governor Spitzer as a supporter, just as she recently demanded that Senator Obama repudiate the endorsement made by “Minister” Louis Farrakhan, but that’s not why she’s the real loser here, either.

The real reason why Senator Hillary Clinton is the real loser is simple: here, in tenth anniversary year of the Monica Lewinsky melt-down, the last thing Senator Clinton needs is for America to be reminded of the facts and details surrounding her husband Bill’s exploitative tryst with intern Monica Lewinsky. Yet today’s fallen political unfaithful husband, Eliot Spitzer, will do nothing so much as he will remind America of that other unfaithful political husband … Bill Clinton.

Senator Clinton will be seen by some as a precursor “victim” to today’s spouse-victim, Eliot’s wife – Silda Wall Spitzer. However, the real memory-jog will be more along the lines of then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton’s misguided belief in a “Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy” as the architect of her downfall, rather than a philandering husband who couldn’t keep it zipped. That one blame-comment, made on the Today Show on January 27, 1998 showed her political blindness in the face of a fact she’d known for decades – that Bill Clinton was a serial philanderer. She knew about Gennifer Flowers. She knew about Paula Jones. No matter how much she would have liked to believe otherwise, her attempt to blame the Lewinsky story on political opponents instead of her husband of more than 20 years shows a serious gap in judgment – the kind of judgment she is offering as her justification for being named the Democratic Party’s candidate.

As an aside, I was frankly amazed that Clinton-for-President campaign spokesman Mark Penn made reference to Ken Starr, even in an effort to put down Senator Obama – it brought up what may be the most shameful and painful part of Senator Clinton’s life – and the last thing she needs is for people to start remembering what her tenure in the White House was really like.

For more than a year now, Senator Clinton has painted herself as “co-President,” using cleverly-crafted PR-driven strategies to credit herself with all the stellar accomplishments of the Bill Clinton Presidency. These range from those that President Clinton really had a hand in, such as NAFTA, Welfare Reform and a Balanced Budget – to those the President and his First Lady had little to do with, such as the peace in Northern Ireland. Strategically, the last thing Senator Clinton wants, however, is a careful refresher course in the Clinton Presidency – not the one marked by major political accomplishments, but the one marked by scandal: Whitewater, Travelgate, Vince Foster, Casa Grande, Ron Brown, Susan McDougall … and, Monica Lewinsky.

Yet that is exactly what Governor Eliot Spitzer’s now-public assignation with a high-priced prostitute will do. Spitzer’s downfall will remind Americans of that last high-level Democrat who misused his executive position to further his own “unconventional” sexual needs and desires. And, if Spitzer tries to make this out as a “personal problem” – which is what he called it in his initial press conference – the way that President Clinton tried to make Lewinsky and lying before a Grand Jury a “personal problem,” one that was “just about sex,” this will only sharpen the comparison and further damage Senator Clinton’s push to the presidency.

If nothing else, it will cause the press to raise questions that, by their very nature, will diminish ex-President Bill Clinton’s utility as Senator Clinton’s campaigner-in-Chief; instead of lauding his wife’s accomplishments and potential, he’ll be peppered with “ten-years-after” questions about his own scandal, and how that relates to Governor Spitzer’s scandal.

So, at least politically, the big loser from the Eliot Spitzer sex-tryst melt-down is … Senator Hillary Clinton and her presidential aspirations. She may yet survive this, as she’s survived so many other things in her tumultuous 30-plus year marriage-cum-political career – those who count her out have lost more bets than they’ve won – but clearly the last thing she needed in the run-up to the final, and critical, primaries in Mississippi, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and a dozen or so other states, was a reminder of the problems she faced as First Lady, and what that might portend for her own Presidency.

Remember, you heard it here first!