Swans Commentary » swans.com March 24, 2008  



Low Crimes & Misdemeanors


by Charles Marowitz





(Swans - March 24, 2008)   No one will ever abolish prostitution. It is not called "the oldest profession" for nothing. It is rooted in inescapable sexual needs that are built into the genomes of all of us. It makes sense to legalize it, which countries like Germany, Spain, Sweden, Holland and others have done. Its only other value is to feed the voyeurism of a nation whose favorite pastimes have become humiliation, scandal-mongering, and celebrity lynchings.

Although I admire the tenor and thrust of Rabbi Michael Lerner's recent article in Tikkun on the fall of Eliot Spitzer, (1) it is a typical response to moral turpitude in that it solicits sympathy for the ex-governor's "crimes" and promotes that soothing, benevolent sense of forgiveness, which is a common religious reaction to what are viewed as acts of human weakness -- "Go, my son, and sin no more."

"Going to a prostitute is legal in some states and some countries around the world," writes Rabbi Lerner, "and is very often the very arrangement that saves families from splitting up whose sexual energies have diminished but whose love is intact." Which neatly sidesteps what is often the real drive behind extramarital sex, namely the desire to satisfy sexual cravings with an attractive passing stranger, which, because it is both gratuitous and transient, involves no ongoing social attachment. Unless it disturbs the equilibrium of a marriage in which sex has become stale or routine and deeply offends the vanity of one spouse or the other, extramarital sex tends to reaffirm the difference between a genuine union between partners as opposed to a short-term tryst that, in almost all cases, breeds no desire to develop into a mutual relationship. (How many men do you know who go off and marry their hookers?)

Rabbi Lerner goes on to say: "I and many others in the religious and spiritual world oppose that practice (i.e., extramarital sex) when it involves adultery or prostitution because it depends on the objectification of another human being, so that sex is disconnected in ways that it should not be from a significant encounter with the spirit of God in the other or a deep recognition that is the only real way to overcome existential or situational alienation." But it is precisely the "objectification" of the prostitute which saves it from endangering the ties that already exist between husband and wife. And it is preposterous to describe either marital or extramarital sex as "a significant encounter with the spirit of God." (Although, if it's truly pleasurable, God's name is often invoked as in: "God, that was good!")

"It is not uncommon," writes Lerner, "for men (and now women increasingly as well) who have achieved great power and influence... to feel a deep emptiness and loneliness that is not addressed by friends or spouse, and hence to seek some kind of outside connection no matter how superficial, that is not bound by previous rules and roles." But buying sex from a woman who is willing to sell it for an agreed sum of money is an age-old transaction that adheres firmly both to "rules" and "roles." The rule is: Is the woman in question worth the price she is asking for the satisfaction she is going to bestow? And as for the "role," it is traditionally rooted in the fact that the purchase of a sexual transaction is both transitory and anonymous and one that exists outside the framework of marriage.

To proceed, as Rabbi Lerner does, into a discussion about the horrors of sex slavery and gross exploitation of women by cruel and sadistic pimps is to mix two quite separate issues. The girls in the Emperor's Club, who receive thousands of dollars for providing sex for transient executives, are not prisoners of a blood-thirsty Madame who keeps them in chains in a fetid grotto, but often filled with college-educated young women who recognize that the financial return from prostitution is far greater than being a salesgirl or an office worker. Very often they "pass through" prostitution on the way to conventional relationships, marriage, and families, and when they become their own entrepreneurs, it is because of the nest egg they have accumulated from years in the bordello.

But the real significance of the Spitzer situation has very little to do with extramarital sex and complacent hookers but to the fact, as Bill Van Auken in his article in WSWS points out, (2) that this was unquestionably a political "hit" upon a zealous governor and former attorney general who has gone after -- and caught -- corporate criminals who, in the main, have been proud and upright members of the Republican Party. Many of them unable to contain their glee, tend to view the downfall of Spitzer as a giant feather in their caps in their war against the do-gooders who are bent on exposing their frauds and larcenies. We know all about Client #9 as he has been lip-smackingly forced to resign. If all the other "clients" -- whatever their numbers -- remain free from indictment and exposure, it is probably because there is no real political gain in chasing them down. In short, this is a saga not about morality or puritanism (although both are factors in the public's enjoyment of Spitzer's downfall) but of what in the Nixon era used to be called "dirty tricks." Maneuvers to expose and humiliate those who would deign to interfere with the high-echelon greed and corruption that flourishes in capitalist America.

As Van Auken points out, the greater fear is not in threatening the sanctity of marriage and the bonds of marital fidelity, but eliminating those government watchdogs who have the audacity to expose their ill-gotten profits and acquisitions. In short, when you erase the graffiti daubed over the image of Eliot Spitzer, you will find (yet again) the fingerprints of the Department of Justice and the FBI coached by members of the executive branch.

If there is a price to pay for consorting with hookers and embarrassing one's family, it is one that Silda Wall Spitzer is perfectly entitled to exact in the privacy of her troubled home. For the government to intercede in the way that it has is simply another example of dirty politics as usual.



1.  "Elliot Spitzer and America's Ethical Perversity," by Rabbi Michael Lerner, tikkun.org, March 12, 2008.  (back)

2.  "Politically directed dragnet snares New York Governor Spitzer," by Bill Van Auken, wsws.org, March 12, 2008.  (back)


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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
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Published March 24, 2008