I am indignant about moral indignation. Over the past two months, we have seen an eruption of outrage over the candidacies of Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer from elected officials and other interested parties across the city, and to be perfectly frank, I have a hard time believing a word of it.
If there were any consistency in the way these elected officials decried the ethical and legal transgressions of their colleagues, that would be one thing.
But we have seen time and again that when it is in the self-interest of New York politicians to turn a blind eye to sexual harassment, member item abuse, scandal cover-ups and outright corruption, the same electeds who are now echoing Cicero’s famous exclamation “O tempora! O mores!” are quick to implore the public and the media to reserve judgment or extend forgiveness to their allies.
While there are numerous people who are legitimately appalled by the conduct of Weiner and Spitzer, for the most part the uproar to date has been manufactured by their opponents, their opponents’ surrogates and the special interests that have cast their lots in favor of one of these rivals, who are now petrified that they may have bet wrong.
Just as disingenuous as the moaning about the shame Spitzer and Weiner’s candidacies have brought upon New York City politics—as if our current elected officials were held up as paragons of virtue—is the criticism that Spitzer’s self-funded bid is undemocratic.
Oh, please. Where was this chorus of rectitude when Scott Stringer was set to cruise into the city’s second most powerful elected office unopposed? Are these same critics howling with anger that despite being under a thunder cloud of suspicion Eric Adams is on the verge of being coronated Brooklyn borough president with the backing of virtually every Democratic official in the city, including practically every one of the party’s mayoral candidates? Of course not. Taking such a stand would require these politicians to do something that would potentially be unpopular with their fellow insiders—that perhaps might exemplify courage, that rarest of qualities among our elected leaders.
The other direction from which the righteous indignation over Spitzer and Weiner’s candidacies has come is the tabloids. Their umbrage is just as laughable, and no less theatrical. While the editorial pages excoriate Weiner and Spitzer for their past transgressions and lambaste the sincerity of their redemption tours, the razorsharp wits who write the covers of their newspapers are selling their product by spinning out one family-friendly headline after another along the lines of “Here We Ho Again!”
The truth is Spitzer’s greatest transgression was never sexual in nature, nor was it precipitated by hubris; his real crime was hypocrisy. And now, thanks to his self-serving antagonists, we see clearly just how easy it is to commit that offense.