WASHINGTON -- Eliot Spitzer, the previously disgraced former governor of New York, told me today that he is testing what may be new dynamics of personal transgression and forgiveness in politics.

In 2008, Spitzer resigned amid disclosures that he had paid as much as $80,000 to prostitutes over several years.

Yesterday, a little more than five years after his humiliating departure, the 54-year-old Harvard-educated lawyer declared his candidacy for comptroller of New York City, a little-known but powerful post.

Spitzer’s announcement comes in a campaign era that seems, at first glance, to have become more tolerant of second chances for those involved in sexual and marital scandals.

I asked Spitzer if he thought that public mores -- and the rules of politics -- had changed in a fundamental way that would offer him an easier route to redemption.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I really haven’t been in politics long enough to have a basis for comparison."

“I don’t know if the circumstances are different now than they were, say, 30 or 50 years ago,” he said.

“I do think that back then, there was in general less known about the private lives of politicians,” he said. “So the idea of redemption wasn’t the factor that it is now.”

Spitzer made it clear that he was not assuming he would be forgiven. While he was not prosecuted for a crime, he spoke of earning back the trust he lost in 2008.

“I think that the public has always been wonderfully forgiving. But I have to quickly add that we will see if that forgiveness extends to me. The public believes in redemption, in second chances. We’ll see if that applies in my case. I have to earn it,” he said.

Spitzer said the decision to run was not an easy one. His family is on board as he seeks to once again fulfill his lifelong ambition to be a public servant, he said.

“It was a tough decision,” he said, “but [comptroller] is an interesting position. I have always been interested in public service, so I decided to go for it.

"I know that there will be body blows ahead, but I will just have to absorb them," he said.

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously declared that “there are no second acts in American lives.” He was wrong. As Spitzer shows, the political stage these days is full of presumed-dead careers in the midst of remakes.

On the sex scandal front, the other names are familiar: Rep. Mark Sanford and mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner, both of whom had their own falls from grace prior to their current political revivals.

Meanwhile, on a different plane, former President George W. Bush has begun a gradual, cautious and shrewdly managed rebuild. And even former Vice President Dick Cheney -- whose approval rating once rested at 13 percent -- is venturing forth after a heart transplant onto Sunday talk shows and appearances in his home state of Wyoming.

Fitzgerald’s dictum hasn’t always applied to politics, but there have always been risks in trying to successfully defy it. Richard Nixon did so for a while -- only to see his second act come crashing down in Watergate.

But the idea of one-act careers seems almost quaint today. Why?

On the sex-and-marriage front, the bounds of tolerable behavior have widened, or at least public discussion of them has become more accepted in recent years.

President Bill Clinton, impeached and nearly convicted in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, wrote a new textbook on how to survive in the crosscurrents of American culture, which both glorifies sex for its own sake and puritanically scourges those who seek it.

On one level, Clinton was the patron saint of shamelessness. Looked at another way, he was a paragon of political fortitude, soldiering on for his policy goals.

With political parties divided, there are no “smoke-filled back rooms” to block second acts. And with the abolition of most fundraising rules, the second acts can now self-fund or crowd-fund their way up again.

The rhythm and power of scandal has changed, too, said Whit Ayres, a prominent Republican pollster and consultant.

In the age of Twitter and cable TV -- and broadcast shows with names like “Scandal” -- individual political disasters have become industrialized, trivialized and conveniently (for hardy folk in high office) disposable.

“Things are so instantaneous now that these scandals burn white-hot -- hotter than they ever did, which can quickly drive people from office,” Ayres said. “But it also means that the damage might not be as deep."

“People have such short attention spans now,” Ayres said. “If you are a politician, all you have to do is wait.”

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  • President Barack Obama

    Obama's second-term agenda had to take a backseat after several scandals caught the media's attention in May. Republicans' continued scrutiny of the Obama administration's handling of the attacks in Benghazi was a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/13/obama-press-conference-benghazi_n_3266639.html" target="_blank">significant distraction</a>. Within the same week that the Internal Revenue Service revealed it had <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/13/obama-irs-scandal_n_3266577.html" target="_blank">targeted tea party groups</a> requesting tax-exempt status, news broke that the DOJ <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/13/ap-phone-records-government-intrusion-unprecedented_n_3268569.html" target="_blank">seized</a> months of phone records of journalists for the Associated Press.

  • George W. Bush

    Bush's first and second terms were marked by significant scandals. During Bush's second term, his administration <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/george-w-bush/gIQAWH2QAP_topic.html" target="_blank">came under scrutiny</a> for its handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the firings of numerous federal prosecutors. In 2007, the leak of a CIA agent's name led to the conviction of I. Lewis Libby, then-Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff. Additional scandals included the arrest of a domestic policy aide after he was caught shoplifting, the resignation of a senior State Department official directly affiliated with the infamous D.C. Madam and an investigation tracing $12 billion worth of funds left unaccounted for in correlation to the Iraq War. <em>Source: <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/george-w-bush/gIQAWH2QAP_topic.html" target="_blank">The Washington Post</a>, <a href="http://www.salon.com/2005/01/18/scandal_11/" target="_blank">Salon</a> and <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2009/01/06/forgotten-bush-scandals.html" target="_blank">The Daily Beast</a> </em>

  • Bill Clinton

    Though he denied the allegations at first, Clinton <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/special/clinton/stories/impeach021399.htm" target="_blank">was eventually impeached</a> in his second term after an <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/20/monica-lewinsky-book_n_1900960.html" target="_blank">affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky</a> came to light. He avoided being removed from office. In addition to his affair with Lewinsky, Clinton battled <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/special/whitewater/whitewater.htm" target="_blank">the Whitewater scandal</a>, a real estate deal gone awry years before he took office. Amid the investigation, the Clintons were accused of fraud and abuse of power. <em>Source: <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/special/whitewater/whitewater.htm" target="_blank">The Washington Post</a> </em> <em><strong>Correction:</strong> An earlier version of this slide incorrectly stated that Clinton had avoided impeachment.</em>

  • Ronald Reagan

    <a href="http://www.brown.edu/Research/Understanding_the_Iran_Contra_Affair/iran-contra-affairs.php" target="_blank">The Iran-Contra affair</a>, an arrangement where weapons were sold to Iran in hopes that the funds would support the Nicaraguan Contras, <a href="http://www.salon.com/2011/02/04/busby_iran_contra/" target="_blank">rocked the Reagan administration</a>. The scandal derailed parts of Reagan's second-term agenda, which was originally intended to be centered on the Soviet Union and the Cold War. <em>Source: <a href="http://www.salon.com/2011/02/04/busby_iran_contra/" target="_blank">Salon.com</a> and <a href="http://www.brown.edu/Research/Understanding_the_Iran_Contra_Affair/iran-contra-affairs.php" target="_blank">Brown.edu</a></em>

  • Richard Nixon

    After burglars were arrested inside the <a href="http://www.history.com/topics/watergate" target="_hplink">Watergate building in 1972</a>, it was revealed that they were affiliated with Nixon's reelection campaign. The men were caught in the middle of stealing files and wiretapping phones in the office of the Democratic National Committee. Nixon later raised "hush money" to stop the FBI investigation into the burglars. On August 8, 1974, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/big/0808.html" target="_hplink">Nixon resigned</a> after his role in the Watergate scandal was exposed. Source: <a href="http://www.history.com/topics/watergate" target="_hplink">History.com</a> and <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/big/0808.html" target="_hplink">The New York Times</a>

  • Dwight Eisenhower

    In 1958, Eisenhower's Chief of Staff Sherman Adams resigned after a scandal revealed <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/30/politics/30history.html?_r=0" target="_blank">he met with federal agencies</a> on behalf of a businessman who had given him gifts. According to The New York Times, the recession's effects on the economy resulted in the Republican Party losing 48 House seats. Eisenhower reportedly referred to 1958 as one of the worst years of his life. <em>Source: <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/30/politics/30history.html?_r=0" target="_blank">The New York Times</a></em>

  • Franklin Roosevelt

    In 1937, Roosevelt announced his intent to make the Supreme Court more efficient by expanding it to include as many as 15 judges. Roosevelt was immediately accused of <a href="http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/roosevelt-announces-court-packing-plan" target="_blank">"packing" the court</a> so that his New Deal legislation would face fewer roadblocks. <em>Source: <a href="http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/roosevelt-announces-court-packing-plan" target="_blank">History.com</a></em>

  • Ulysses S. Grant

    Grant's first and second terms were riddled with <a href="http://www.history.com/topics/ulysses-s-grant" target="_blank">scandals</a>. In 1875, associates close to Grant were accused of attempting to defraud the federal government of millions, though Grant himself was not directly involved in the schemes. <em>Source: <a href="http://www.history.com/topics/ulysses-s-grant" target="_blank">History.com</a></em>

  • Thomas Jefferson

    During his second term, Jefferson passed the <a href="http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/185515/Embargo-Act" target="_blank">Embargo Act</a>, which halted trade between the United States and Great Britain. Jefferson hoped Great Britain would be more affected by the Embargo Act than the United States. Unfortunately, however, the act put tremendous strain on the American economy and <a href="http://books.google.com/books?id=_pn4Y2FHhg0C&pg=PA73&lpg=PA73&dq=embargo+act+divided+americans&source=bl&ots=Pm1fJFzXNE&sig=edFWLAXXdnDFPcm7uKaYllD94XY&hl=en&sa=X&ei=h8mcUdK3HNej4AOtk4DYBA&ved=0CCoQ6AEwADgK#v=onepage&q&f=false" target="_blank">divided the nation</a>. Josiah Quincy, a leader of the Federalists Party, fiercely opposed the Embargo Act, claiming it was wrong to <a href="http://www.unz.org/Pub/PlatzMabel-1940-00602" target="_blank">abandon commercial prosperity</a>. <em>Source: <a href="http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/185515/Embargo-Act" target="_blank">Britannica.com</a>, <a href="http://books.google.com/books?id=_pn4Y2FHhg0C&pg=PA73&lpg=PA73&dq=embargo+act+divided+americans&source=bl&ots=Pm1fJFzXNE&sig=edFWLAXXdnDFPcm7uKaYllD94XY&hl=en&sa=X&ei=h8mcUdK3HNej4AOtk4DYBA&ved=0CCoQ6AEwADgK#v=onepage&q&f=false" target="_blank">Crucible of Power</a> and <a href="http://www.unz.org/Pub/PlatzMabel-1940-00602" target="_blank">Unz.org</a></em>