Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Schadenfreude and Sympathy for the Devil (JM)

Wall Street applauded when it was revealed that Eliot Spitzer went by the alias "Client 9". The man who had hounded them so mercilessly was himself now a victim of a Spitzer-like investigation. Articles from the shockingly unsympathetic (note sarcasm) New York Post, like this gem by notorious Spitzer-hater Charles Gasparino, discuss the "poetic justice" that Spitzer is now receiving.

Excuse my language for a minute, but this is total crap. Spitzer was self-righteous, hypocritical and certainly out to further his career. He was very hard-nosed in his prosecutions, often going a bit beyond the nebulous line of prosecutorial conduct. He is certainly receiving his just dessert for actions he took that were thoughtless, potentially criminal and simply wrong. However, this is not, in any way, "poetic justice" for his treatment of people like Dick Grasso and Hank Greenberg. Financial malfeasances on such a high level are far worse crimes than engaging in prostitution. The truth is that Spitzer's actions hurt a small segment of the population (and to some degree the people of New York), but they don't come close to types of high-end white collar crimes Spitzer used to prosecute.

It was great that Spitzer used to make Wall Street nervous. In a post-Enron world there it was comforting to know that in the governor's office there was a bulldog who did not just go after financial institutions, but understood their idiosyncrasies well enough to lay pressure on them effective. Sure, he went beyond the pale occasionally, but much like trumping up tax charges on Capone when you are fighting against that much power and wealth you often have to skirt the boundaries of the system. The system is inherently biased towards institutions of great wealth. The downfall of Spitzer was not the downfall of man who was getting his comeuppance. Rather, it was for those very actions Wall Street is so furious about that it is shame Spitzer did what he did. The lesson in this is not, "let he who is without sin throw the first stone." We are all perfectly well flawed and still there are some more deserving of good stonings than others. The lesson here, if anything, is for god sakes when you're a brilliant man don't be some damned stupid.

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