Prostitution v. War Crimes: The Real Moral Offense

In October, the extremely pro-war, neoconservative New York Sun ceased operations, and its journalists are now finding a warm and welcoming home, appropriately and revealingly enough, at The New Republic. Sun reporter Eli Lake was quickly hired as a TNR Contributing Editor (where he now "exposes" and

In October, the extremely pro-war, neoconservative New York Sun ceased operations, and its journalists are now finding a warm and welcoming home, appropriately and revealingly enough, at The New Republic. Sun reporter Eli Lake was quickly hired as a TNR Contributing Editor (where he now "exposes" and excoriates "the Left"
for its sinister "solidarity" with "Islamic supremacist insurgents" in
Iraq, such as shoe-throwing reporter Muntazer al-Zaidi), and yesterday,
TNRpublished a finger-wagging sermon by former Sun reporter Jacob Gershman, who vigorously objects that Eliot Spitzer is allowed to appear in public and even write a Slate column so soon after exposure of his grave and monumental sin of hiring adult prostitutes.

column -- entitled: "Why Eliot Spitzer's attempt to be taken seriously
again won't work--and doesn't deserve to" -- illustrates how warped our
public morality has become. As a result of his minor, consensual,
victimless, private crime (not because of his actual sin of hypocrisy
as a former persecutor of prostitution rings), Spitzer was forced to
resign as Governor, had intimate details of his sex life
voyeuristically dissected by hordes of people driven by titillation
masquerading as moral disgust, and was as humiliated and disgraced as a
political figure can be. But apparently, that's not even close to
enough. According to Gershman, Spitzer has many more steps to complete
in his public humiliation ritual before he should be permitted to
appear in decent, respectable company again:

But a comeback, especially for a scandal-tarred politician, must follow set guidelines and steps of progression. You can't skip ahead. Spitzer's problem is that he isn't playing by the rules. . . .

one, Spitzer has yet to convince the public that he's actually sorry.
When he resigned in March, he faced the cameras and said he had "begun
to atone for my private failings." Since then, while privately
apologizing to some friends and colleagues, Spitzer has made little
effort to publicly show his remorse, and people have noticed. "He's
missing the hurt he caused everybody, the hopes that were dashed, and
the fact that the entire state government ground to a halt,"
one of his former senior aides told me. . . .

Even then, Spitzer wouldn't be off the hook,
says [P.R. adviser Howard] Rubenstein, who recommends that Spitzer
emulate John Profumo, the British war secretary, whose affair with a
showgirl who was also seeing a Russian spy scandalized the U.K. in
1963. After he resigned, his decades of social work in London's East
End became as well known as the events that ended his political career.
Spitzer, says Rubenstein, should "pick a charity he likes and thinks he
could work for. It can be a soup kitchen. He has to do something where he can use his talent or physical being" . . . .

that -- he needs to self-flagellate and beg public forgiveness more
humbly and even work for years or decades in a soup kitchen before he
can even be heard from -- because, in private, Spitzer hired

Meanwhile, Dick Cheney went on ABC News on Monday night,
where he was treated with oozing (i.e., typical) respect by
correspondent Jonathan Karl, and literally admitted, brazenly and
unapologetically, to committing war crimes; blithely justified the
atrocities that were committed as part of our attack on Iraq; and
glorified the whole slew of illegal surveillance programs he ordered.
And that's how most of the world outside of the U.S. (accurately) perceives Cheney's comments -- as a brazen admission of responsibility for many of the world's worst crimes of the last decade:

outgoing US vice-president, Dick Cheney, last night gave an
unapologetic assessment of his eight years in office, defending the
invasion of Iraq, the US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, secret
wiretapping and the extreme interrogation method known as
waterboarding. . . .

He told ABC News he stood by the most
controversial policies of the Bush administration, and urged
president-elect Barack Obama to think hard before undoing them. Asked
about the use of torture on terror suspects, he replied: "We don't do
torture. We never have. It's not something this administration
subscribes to."

Later in the same interview, Cheney was
asked whether the use of waterboarding in the interrogation of the
alleged mastermind of the September 11 attacks, Khaled Sheikh Mohammed,
had been appropriate. He replied: "I do."

Waterboarding is a technique that induces the sensation of drowning, and is widely regarded as a form of torture.

Yet unlike Eliot Spitzer, Dick Cheney -- just like Berkeley Law Professor John Yoo; think tank scholar, author and former Georgetown School of Foreign Service Professor Doug Feith; Georgetown's current Distinguished University Professor George Tenet,
and so many others -- isn't going to be forced to endure any
humiliation or remorse rituals whatsoever. As Cheney is feted by
network news anchors a year or two from now upon release of the book he
plans to write, there will be no real objections that this monstrous
war criminal and perverter of our constitutional framework is treated
like some sort of retired royal dignitary. Cheney is and will remain a
symbol of profound seriousness, entitled to respect and endowed with
permanent wisdom.

What's most striking is not that we have zero
intention of prosecuting the serious crimes committed by our leading
establishment figures. It's that we don't even recognize them as
crimes -- or even serious transgressions -- at all. To the contrary,
we still demand that those who are culpable be treated as dignified,
respectable, serious and inherently good leaders. Real outrage is
never generated by the crimes and outrages they have undertaken, but
only when they are not given their proper respectful due as leading
American elites. Hence:

An Iraqi citizen throws his shoes at
an American President who -- all based on false pretenses -- invaded,
occupied and obliterated his country; set up prisons where his fellow
citizens were encaged without trials and subjected to brutal treatment;
slaughtered hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians and displaced
millions more. And the outrage is predominantly directed at the
disrespect, irreverence and the "ingratitude" displayed by the
shoe-thrower, not the murderous and inhumane acts of the dignified
American leader.

Tom Friedman goes on national television and sociopathically justifies the attack on another country
by the need to make its citizens "Suck. On. This," and while Friedman
is universally treated as one of America's most cherished and important
public intellectuals, it's the college student who throws a harmless pie in Friedman's face to protest his deranged and highly damaging war-cheerleading that prompts angry condemnation ("absolutely horrifying," protested vocal Iraq war supporter Jonathan
Chait). Dick Cheney -- on his way to a lavishly rich and respectful
retirement full of five-and-six-figure-speech-fees -- giddily admits to
war crimes and other brutal and illegal acts, and TNR is angry that Eliot Spitzer is allowed to opine in public before being humiliated and humbled some more.

reason the American political establishment tenaciously refuses to
acknowledge the devastation and crimes that have been unleashed during
the Bush era is obvious: aside from the generalized belief that
Americans are inherently good and thus incapable of meriting terms such
as "aggressive wars" and "war criminals" no matter what they actually
do (those phrases are applicable only to lesser foreigners), most of
the establishment supported these crimes and the criminals who
unleashed them. We can therefore tolerate thinking about Bush
officials and their bipartisan enablers as political and opinion
leaders who (with the best of intentions) embraced what turned out to
be some misguided policies, but not as people whose criminal acts led
to death and suffering on an enormous scale and an almost complete
degradation of whatever was still commendable about American political

That's the real benefit, the real cause, of these
flamboyant and obsessive collective outrage sessions directed at petty
offenders who do things like hire prostitutes, commit adultery, or engage in some sleazy though quite commonplace political corruption.
Those rituals enable those who participated in and cheered on real
crimes to parade around as righteous defenders of the moral good
without having to acknowledge the extremism, brutality and destruction
they've supported. The spectacle of the pro-war New York Sun and the Lieberman-endorsing TNR
-- of all people -- joining together to complain that Eliot Spitzer (of
all people) hasn't yet been humiliated or scorned enough is just one
particularly vivid illustration of this warped public morality.

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