The Daily Beast
by John Avlon
July 8, 2013
First came Mark Sanford, then Anthony Weiner, and now Eliot Spitzer is throwing his hat in the New York City comptroller’s race. John Avlon on why the sex scandals of old are dead—and why Spitzer’s smarter than Weiner.
Inspired by the unexpected success of Anthony Weiner, whose crotch shots and sexting with strangers seem only to have added to his street cred, Spitzer is echoing Weiner’s signature request for “forgiveness” and a second chance. Hubristic humility is now a thing in New York.
Perhaps it was inevitable. Spitzer had too much money and too much ambition to sit around with time on his hands and watch comparatively second-rate politicos rise to redemption. After all, few disgraced former governors who commit the unforgivable political sin—hypocrisy, not sex—find themselves offered a prime-time cable television slot within two years as compensation. And though all did not end well for Spitzer at CNN or Current TV, the man kept himself “in the arena.” But an outright run for office, even a lesser electoral perch, seemed unlikely this cycle.
It should be said that Bubba set the mold. Post-Monica, Clinton’s poll numbers climbed on credible claims of competence. He seemed liberated by dirty laundry aired in the open, finally free to be loved for who he really was: a talented, intelligent, testosterone-overproducing political machine. But he was already in his second term, without the need to face the voters again. And with time, the memory of Monica receded while the legend of Bill only looms larger.
From that foundation came the more audacious 2013 play—what if a politician tainted by sex scandal could use that notoriety to regain power and position? Mark Sanford set the template earlier this year with a successful run for his old South Carolina congressional seat. His request for a second chance was granted as high name ID, intelligence on the issues, and a deft political touch trumped any concerns about family values.
Anthony Weiner took notice and decided that now was the time to put his Q-rating and remaining campaign coffers to the test with a run for New York City mayor. Better-prepared, lesser-known Democratic challengers have failed thus far to turn Weiner’s public disgrace into a disqualifier—and buoyed by panting media coverage, he has turned the campaign into a referendum on relatability, going so far as to compare his struggle to the “hero’s arc.” Overcoming the embarrassment of a sex scandal is now apparently the equivalent of serving time on Robben Island.