Bob Franken


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I know I speak for all my fellow cheat-shot artists when I want to express my deep appreciation to Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner for giving us an excuse to stoop to old lows.
Tawdry sex, after all, compared with the tedium of health care or the economy, is much, uh, sexier. Assuming, though, that they are not slinking back into the political arena merely to make our jobs easier, one can’t help but be astonished at their willingness to subject themselves to the groveling required to claw back up from their embarrassing downfalls. But grovel they do — the allure of the spotlight is too intense for some to leave behind.
Look how well it seems to work. Obviously, the penance is mightier than the sordid. Weiner has quickly bounced back to the top of the New York mayoral race, just two years after he was exposed for exposing himself on Twitter to women he insisted he had never met. Spitzer, of course, is remembered for his dalliances with a hooker. He was Gov. Spitzer when he resigned in 2008, but here he is in 2013 trying to run for office again. He aspires to be New York City comptroller. It’s taken somewhat longer for him to take comptrol of his political fortunes again. In his case, he made a gradual transition, going from utter disgrace to TV personality (I said “gradual”) and now back to wannabe candidate.
This has happened enough times that there’s a tried-and-true formula for running the gantlet to get past the past. There is ritual contrition, admitting “mistakes,” maybe even tearing up on camera, as Spitzer did during one his interviews. Then it’s simply a case of counting on the truly American spirit of the voters. It’s not that we are particularly forgiving, but we get bored easily and hate old stories. The late-night jokes go stale and soon subside. The negative ends up turning into a huge plus: name recognition. Both Weiner and Spitzer immediately shot to the top of the polls. It would be tempting to conclude that nothing helps a politician like a good old sex scandal. Newt Gingrich is a repeat offender, and he’s back still again. At the moment, he’s in the TV-rehab mode as a co-host of the new/old “Crossfire” show on CNN.

If Gingrich can do it and Bill Clinton can do it and Mark Sanford can do it, there’s no reason Messrs. Spitzer and Weiner can’t. After all, the business they’re in is not particularly noted for its rectitude. Is selling oneself to special interests any worse than more traditional prostitution? As a matter of fact, Spitzer has one very strong selling point: The financial and corporate heavyweights despise him. When he was state attorney general and governor, he made their greedy lives miserable with his huge lawsuits and investigations into their most egregious schemes. When he got caught with his pants down, top executives celebrated. One of Spitzer’s big campaign pitches is that as city comptroller, he could once again rein them in.
But wait, the plot thickens. The ex-madam who claims to have supplied Spitzer with call girls says she’s going to run against him. Spitzer denies dealing with her, but Kristin Davis spent three months in prison for operating an escort service. She has a campaign website on which she describes herself as a “feminist entrepreneur” who has the “financial management and business experience” required to hold office. Hard to argue with that. There are no suggestive pictures on the website, just her in a mild come-hither pose. Bummer.
She did tell the New York Daily News, “This is going to be the funnest campaign ever.” That’s probably not the case. There’s a steady supply of freakish candidates. They make covering politics the funnest job. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

© 2013 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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