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The arrogance of power

| Sunday, March 23, 2008

WASHINGTON -- People throughout the United States still wonder about the life and times of the former governor of New York. Many are outraged by the evidence of sin, some are delighted and others believe that such escapades are private with no place in the media.

Historically, from Presidents Thomas Jefferson in 1801 through Andrew Jackson, Grover Cleveland, Franklin Roosevelt and Bill Clinton, voters have decided that policies and public service were more important than private peccadilloes.

Before we discuss New York's flawed ex-governor, it is worth thinking about the context of his fall from power. We are governed by strange people -- even leaving the executive branch out of the equation; from the post-Reagan White House, a sea of stories have floated down about alcohol, drug abuse and illicit sexual activity.

Catering to our elected officials, the military and civil service in Washington and most large U.S. cities are "sex clubs." One large club, opulent and within a five-minute cab ride of the Capitol, holds parties for "consenting adults" -- couples only and must be over 18 -- twice a week at a $150 entrance fee.

There, military officers from all branches of our services, security investigators, civil servants and lobbyists of all sexes, sizes and types from 18 to their 60s go to relax. From 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. on certain nights, a group of between 100 and 200 can be found "enjoying" the strange pleasures of a Middle Eastern house of ill fame.

It is by no means the only such club in our capital. Now, everything is so legal that off-duty police officers keep watch with their on-duty mates, providing security in the parking lot. With the introduction of camera-ready cell phones, a sex club is one of few oases of freedom from trilling rings: All phones are banned.

So are journalists, unless they sign a lifestyle agreement not to write about a specific club. There are at least two lobbying groups providing our "normal" legislators with reasons why they should promote "sexual freedom" in legislation, if not in the press.

In the U.S. Senate, Larry Craig still represents Idaho and remains a member of the pro-family caucus despite his adventures in an airport bathroom. He is advertising now for this year's crop of summer interns. Mark Foley, another member of the pro-family caucus, resigned when he was discovered sending lewd e-mails to Senate pages.

The standard setters, however, don't shape up too well. Preacher Jim Bakker, a ferocious and proud man in the pulpit, fell from grace because of sex scandals and fraud. Jimmy Swaggart, who exposed Bakker, called him "a cancer in the body of Christ" at the same time as he was relaxing in a house of prostitution. After the revelations, Swaggart told his ever-loyal congregation, "The Lord told me it's flat none of your business."

That is a part of the history of the Protestant Church while the sexual problems of the Catholic clergy are indescribable in their sordidness.

So, why did Eliot Spitzer resign• While he was enforcing the law, he did so with his long jaw sticking out, a bully's childlike grin on his face and a state of mind that can now be read as "catch me if you can!"

He destroyed lives and families not only of criminals but also of uncharged associates on Wall Street and in the insurance industry. He broke up two major prostitution rings in New York, showing neither compassion nor comprehension for the lives he placed in jeopardy.

Spitzer was a hypocrite and was surprised when our Anglo-Saxon world, still sniggering at anything sexual, turned and savaged him and his unfortunate family in the media. Indeed, his behavior was such that one has to wonder whether he was demonstrating his arrogance to test his power.

Dateline D.C. is written by a Washington-based British journalist and political observer.

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