Spitzer Shares Arrogance of Other Powerful Men

Psychologists say Spitzer and powerful men show arrogance and self-pride.


March 11, 2008 — -- New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer built his career on the moral high ground, but faces a fall suffered by Greek gods and Shakespearean characters through his own hubris or exaggerated sense of self-pride.

That scenario, say psychologists, is as old as time: Men who seemingly have it all but tempt fate to risk everything -- family, reputation and even power.

Spitzer -- who during eight years as an aggressive attorney general was compared to Eliot Ness, the legendary FBI man who brought down Al Capone -- is now allegedly Client 9 in a federal investigation of an upscale prostitution ring.

Powerful men who fall from the pinnacle of their careers have much in common, according to experts consulted by ABC News.

"It's a blind spot more than risk," said Mark L. Held, a Denver-area psychologist who specializes in overachievers. "They have a certain arrogance who think they can get away with it."

"They have a tragic Shakespearean character flaw," he said. "The person with everything, who should be the last person to risk it, does. Their power of success has gone to their head."

The fallen power brokers often leave a trail of angry, disappointed loved ones and supporters in their wake.

For Dina Matos McGreevey, whose husband left the New Jersey governorship in shame and a marriage in shambles after admitting an affair with a gay aide, the Spitzer news has unearthed old feelings of "crushing pain."

"They both had such promising careers," McGreevey told ABCNEWS.com. "They worked all their lives to achieve that goal, and then he made a decision that not only effects them, but their family. The wife and children are the victims."

Powerful men who risk their marriages with dalliances are "arrogant enough they believe they are beyond reproach," acccording to McGreevey, who said the emotional blow is like "death without a corpse."

U.S. political history is strewn with the wreckage of sexual scandals. For many years, mainstream journalists had a gentleman's agreement not to write or air stories about the private lives of politicians. That all changed with Vietnam and the Watergate scandal.

By 1976, Rep. Wilbur Mills, R-Ark., couldn't run for re-election after he cavorted nude in Tidal Basin with stripper Fanny Fox. Last year, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., admitted using the services of the D.C. Madam, a high-priced call girl ring operated in the district.

Presidents -- from Franklin Delano Roosevelt to John F. Kennedy to Bill Clinton -- have earned reputations as serial cheaters. Psychologists say the very nature of their power invites self-destruction.

Spitzer's image as a corruption fighter was polished fighting white-collar crime and prostitution rings. He hunted down Wall Street wrongdoers with a chastising tone of moral rectitude. "Listen, I'm a steamroller," he said in his first days as governor.

But his suit of armor is now tarnished, and many say his personal behavior has been reckless.

The day before Valentine's Day, Spitzer allegedly made a series of calls to arrange for a prostitute to come to his Washington hotel room, telling her that the door to his room would be left open, according to federal court papers.

The documents suggest, but by no means verify, that he -- or someone who was known as client No. 9 -- may have asked prostitutes to engage in unprotected sex.

"The very drive that works for them to achieve and accomplish and be successful involves taking a certain risk or living in the fast lane in order to get ahead," said New Jersey psychologist Stanley Teitelbaum, who has written a book about fallen idols.

"That same quality leaves them driving in the wrong lane."

Spitzer, 48, was raised in the affluent Riverdale section of New York City and attended Horace Mann School, one of the most competitive private schools in the country and where his three daughters now go.

He went on to Princeton University, where he graduated in 1981. After receiving a perfect score on the law school entrance exam, he attended Harvard Law School.

The brainy, but coddled Spitzer met his wife, Silda Wall, in law school, and according to a profile in the Harvard University alumni magazine, 02138, they had a model marriage.

After graduation, the couple fast-tracked their careers. Wall worked in corporate mergers and acquisitions before deciding to stay at home with their three daughters, now 17, 15 and 13, as Spitzer rose in political life.

Wall has repeatedly said her husband is a family man, grilling on weekends. "I was never expecting to be a political spouse," she told 02138.

His wife is reportedly uncomfortable in front of the camera, and no where was that more evident than when she appeared with Spitzer, Monday, when he spoke briefly about his situation.

"I have acted in a way that violates my obligations to my family and violates my, or any, sense of right and wrong," Spitzer said at a news conference. "I apologize first and most importantly to my family. I apologize to the public, whom I promised better."

Teitelbaum said powerful men like Spitzer often feel they can break the rules.

According to The New York Times, in 1994, Spitzer denied, then later admitted, borrowing millions of dollars from his wealthy father to finance an unsuccessful run in the Democratic primary for attorney general.

"It's narcissism," he said. "They have a self-centered and distorted view of themselves in relation to the world. They feel the world revolves around them and they take liberties crossing the boundaries."

"The rules don't apply to them," he added. "They feel that if they get caught it will be covered or hushed up or there won't be any consequences."

Sometimes that is the case. More than a decade after President Clinton had an affair with intern Monica Lewinsky, the charismatic politician is bringing star power to his wife's presidential campaign.

But in 1988 when U.S. Sen. Gary Hart, D-Colo., challenged the press to catch him with another woman, they did. His highly publicized affair with Donna Rice ended his presidential aspirations.

Teitelbaum, author of "Sports Heroes, Fallen Idols," said celebrity leads people to believe they can "break the rules."

"These celebrities are living in a bubble," he said. "They have an entourage of people around them who feed into the perceptions and reinforce them."

Psychologists say powerful men turn to prostitutes for several reasons: It is easy for a man with financial resources; it requires no reciprocity; or a man can't view his mate as sexually exciting.

California psychotherapist Diane Ross Glazer, who has worked with prostitutes, said perfect marriages often look "better from the outside."

"Men generally go outside the relationship when they think they are not getting what they need," she said. "Powerful men see other people as there to keep them up or to inflate them."

Charles Konia, a Pennsylvania psychiatrist and author of "The Emotional Plague," said Spitzer is just one in a long list of powerful politicians who launch moral crusades and then are caught in a web of deceit.

"Once people get into power they lose touch with their role as public servant," said Konia. "They become grandiose and can do nothing wrong. That affects their judgment."

Konia said if Spitzer has, indeed, done what he's accused of, he has betrayed the public's trust. "He is not just an ordinary individual, he's a public servant and his reputation is on the line."

"It's a tragic situation," he said. "The family must be in terrible shock. But the damage is already done."

In his remarks Monday, Spitzer said he did not believe "politics in the long run is about individuals. It is about ideas, the public good and doing what is best for the state of New York."

Some, including Shakespeare, would say Spitzer has been hoisted with his own petard.

Still, Denver psychologist Held says mighty politicians with feet of clay are nothing new. "It's part of the human condition," he said. "Human beings are flawed."

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