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No Laughing Matter

It’s easy to have fun at Gov. Spitzer’s expense, and to an extent, I too find the impulse to joke about his fall irresistible. But it is not really a laughing matter. There is the fact that, regardless of the political capital he made of it earlier in his career, prostitution is indeed against the law, and the even more important consideration that elected officials in a democracy should not bring the system into disrepute by breaking the law, especially not in such ridiculous and foolish ways.

But what really bothers me is the opening this gives to the left. Not the Democrats, but the cultural left, for whom hypocrisy is the worst of all the sins. Indeed, it is the only sin. The fact that Spitzer crusaded against vice, only to be caught participating in it, merely tells them that the concept of vice is meaningless and anyone who argues that it is valuable to have standards of behavior is only doing so for self-interested reasons.

According to them, no one really believes anything, and nothing anyone does on their own account has the slightest impact on anybody else. It is the theme of John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty taken to its most ridiculous extreme. Minus the reference to Mill, this was the argument being advanced last night on the G4 network’s “X-Play” (they review video games, and I like my Xbox 360), where Spitzer’s criticism of online violence came in for predictable scorn.

What Spitzer’s case proves, of course, is not that standards are valueless: it is that standards are all the more necessary because, as he has amply illustrated, the temptations to behave badly are all too real. They sometimes prove irresistible, but they would be all the more so in the antinomian, atomized world of those who mock him for his hypocrisy.


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