Spitzer Shares Arrogance of Other Powerful Men

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

ByABC News
March 10, 2008, 7:44 PM

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.