Eliot Spitzer: Total Rat -- Or Upholding Family Values?

When Eliot Spitzer gave his public "apology"on Monday, I was just coming off a sprint on the treadmill at my local gym. A woman who looked to be in her mid-fifties walked up to my machine and made a motion to speak to me. Anyone who belongs to a gym knows that interrupting a person's workout is a huge breach of gym etiquette (unless the building is on fire or you are in possession of the television remote). Breathlessly I removed my headphones.

"Can you believe this?" she said as I slowed to a walk.

"What?" I gasped.

"This." She waved at the row of televisions, all tuned to a jut-jawed Spitzer leaving the podium. "It's terrible! It's just so terrible!"

She was in such a state of distress she obviously just needed to talk to someone -- and I was the only other woman there exercising in the mid-afternoon. We chatted for a few minutes, expressing our mutual horror and revulsion.

I suspect female encounters like this one were taking place throughout the country as the Spitzer scandal unfolded. The affair seems to have struck a nerve among women -- and maybe, especially, among a certain demographic of middle-aged wives -- that no recent political scandal has since, well, Bill Clinton.

Eliot Spitzer wasn't some Southern holyroller caught with his pants down, nor the old legislative hack pathetically caught en flagrante with a young floozy. And his wife, Silda, is poorly cast as the scorned woman. I had the opportunity to sit next to her a few years ago at a luncheon in New York -- before her husband ran for office. I had no idea who she was. By the end of the lunch, I was completely wowed by her: She was smart, funny, beautiful, wise, all at once. The sort of woman who causes bachelors and unhappily married men to say to themselves, "If only I could find someone like her!"

So knock me -- and clearly, most of the female population -- over with a feather. The question everyone wants to know is: Why? Why would a man in his position -- and with his record -- do something so reckless and foolish? Why, with such a seemingly solid wife and family, would he seek out the attention of high class tarts? And why would a woman like Silda agree to stand by him in his hour of infamy?

First let's deal with Silda, who has come under fire for doing the dutiful wife thing while her husband attempted damage control. As Amy Ephron, echoing many others, asks on this site:

Why do they show up? Why did Silda Spitzer appear at her husband's side at his press conference today? The picture in the New York Times' is so telling, so sad, so perfectly humiliating. And you just want to ask, why? Why do political wives -- especially when they seemingly have no political aspirations of their own, it's not like Mrs. Spitzer is going to run for office -- show up for their husbands when their husbands have behaved so badly?

My own impulse in that situation (which I voiced rather icily to my husband over dinner) would be to pack the girls in a car to the Hamptons, and call Raoul Felder from my cellphone. Let the rat hang himself. My husband, in turn, defended the dutiful impulse: When your marriage is on life support, you don't rush to pull the plug. And to give Silda her due, there was nothing of the obedient gaze in her expression that even Hillary Clinton could muster for Bill. This was a woman whose puffy complexion suggested she'd been crying all night--and whose downturned mouth did not radiate forgiveness or acceptance. As Pulitzer-prize winning author Anne Applebaum argued on Slate:

In defense of the political wives who go to the press conference, smile forced smiles, and say nothing: Speaking (ahem) as a political wife myself, I can see one clear advantage to this option: It's all over quickly. And no one asks you for a follow-up interview. You appear once--and then you vanish forever, along with your husband's career. If you've been clever about it, you've kept your maiden name and can thus return to your own career. Those who make other, more attention-getting choices will later be forced back into the limelight to
explain themselves, which is gruesome. And you can, of course, quietly change the locks the next day. Though I hasten to add that I've never had to.

Okay, fine, but so what of him?

A male acquaintance of mine remarked in sympathy to Spitzer, "I can see from a certain male viewpoint there is nothing different from taking a hooker than smoking a cigar out of his wife's view."

The statement is breathtaking -- and yet (to a certain female viewpoint) uncomfortably true. Millions and millions of words have been written since the onset of the sexual revolution to persuade women that they have similar sex drives to men. Or more precisely, that women and men should have similar sex drives. Women can be just as sexually voracious as their male counterparts -- and men can find sex as emotionally fulfilling and binding as women do. Or so the argument goes (and went). An older view saw a role for prostitutes in maintaining marital harmony. If men persist in having sexual urges and desires (e.g. "not safe") that can't be, or aren't being, fulfilled by their wives, isn't it better for everyone if these can be filled by a professional stranger? This same male friend went on to wonder whether it would have been worse if Spitzer had been discovered with a mistress. Certainly it would have been less politically damaging -- but probably more emotionally damaging to his wife. A friend of mine emailed this thought:

As Charlie Sheen stated authoritatively, the point of paying the prostitute is not for the sex but so that she'll leave afterward. My guess is Spitzer's been doing this for years. Just looks like the type. Felt bad for his wife (she was a lovely looking woman) and daughters. It was interesting to think of him sitting down to dinner tonight with four aggrieved females gazing balefully at him.

Another weighed in with this:

Not sure what I think about prostitute/family values. I think sometimes men just want to sleep with whores, whether they "pay" them or not, and the question is "how best not to get caught?" He screwed up.

Years ago, my late mother-in-law was asked by a female friend how a man they both knew could have left his wife for a much less attractive woman. She replied, "That's never the point."

What is the point, in Spitzer's case, is probably best left to his therapist and future marriage counselor.

Or maybe the point is a lot simpler than we're making it. I hashed the matter over with my builder/philosopher John -- who is in the midst of renovating our kitchen. As he strung some overhead lights , he said, "Dunno. Maybe the guy's just an idiot." He paused to spit out a bit of tobacco in the sink before adding, "An idiot who can't control his dick."