This week, Eliot Spitzer, the former New York State governor who was forced to resign after being caught with high-priced prostitutes, declared his candidacy for New York City comptroller. This follows Anthony Weiner's decision to run for NYC mayor, and Paula Deen's recent implosion. What are we to make of such disgraced public figures and their attempts to resuscitate their careers?
Of course, public figures embarrassing themselves is nothing new. It's an ugly but predictable part of human nature. At times, people can overreach, exhibit unbelievable hubris, and pretend the rules don't apply to them. Such behavior also can be rooted in a sickness, such as being a narcissist.
Weiner, you'll recall, was run out of Congress after he was exposed tweeting lewd pictures of himself to various women. For days, he stonewalled questions from the media, insisted on his innocence, and impugned the motives of anyone who cast doubt on his story. But as is the case with many who are disgraced, the reality of his actions was too powerful for him to overcome.
Now, if one believes current public opinion surveys, Weiner is either in a three-way tie for the lead in the Democratic primary, or he may actually be ahead. And Spitzer, too, may soon be embraced by many New Yorkers.
But why the apparent public acceptance? As I've talked to people and read numerous news accounts, there are a number of possible reasons. First, let me get out of the way the fact that no one condones the past behavior of either Weiner or Spitzer, but they do see something redeeming in both men.
Many might say that it has to do with both men ultimately accepting full responsibility for their misguided actions, and for some the belief that they showed genuine remorse. I think what's happening here includes those explanations, but goes beyond them.
Both Weiner and Spitzer have track records for fighting for people. Neither is afraid of taking on the powerful, the rich, the elite. Spitzer, as New York's attorney general, was known as the "sheriff of Wall Street." Another way to put this is that many people may believe that Spitzer and Weiner have the public's best interests at heart, even when they disagree with them. That they will stand up for them. And that the jobs they now aspire to require tough-minded individuals. This is more than they can say about most politicians.
Compare this to the Paula Deen story. Like Weiner and Spitzer, she too stonewalled the media. She wanted to pretend that she had only made a slip of the tongue. But unlike Weiner and Spitzer, her initial problem turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg. She hid her diabetes from her devotees while pushing sugar-filled recipes on them at every turn.
She announced her diabetes just as she made a (paid!) endorsement of a diabetes-related drug. It turns out that her isolated slip of the tongue betrayed deeper attitudes and behaviors. And her remorse, shown on three self-produced videos, and then a much ballyhooed appearance on The Today Show, seemed more like splitting hairs than taking a well-deserved haircut.
Indeed, Paula Dean seemed to reveal to everyone who followed her, and to the rest of us, that she really doesn't have people's best interests at heart -- only her own. Clearly, she does not stand up for anyone other than herself.