None of Us Really Know These Guys
Eric Schneiderman completes the unholy trinity of New York’s prominent liberal politicians.
By Charles P. Pierce May 8, 2018
The downfall of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman completes the unholy trinity of prominent liberal New York politicians whose careers went into the acid bath because, at one level or another, they failed to see women as actual human beings. Eliot Spitzer got involved with a prostitution ring. Anthony Weiner used women as sounding boards for his own pleasure. And Schneiderman, allegedly, physically assaulted his romantic partners. And, in this, again, political pundits learn the lesson that gets drummed into every sportswriter over and over: none of us really know these guys.
Hero worship among sportswriters is annoying, but largely harmless and, besides, there’s always someone who doesn’t buy into it. Hero worship in our politics, however, is a dangerous business. The search for the person on a white horse is an open invitation to counterfeit engagement and artificial activism. The impact of celebrity on our politics has been devastating enough; see the current tenant at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for details. It’s a by-product of the constant calls for “leadership” among our political class, many of which are simple appeals for someone—anyone!—to remove the burdens of citizenship and self-government from our shoulders. And that has worked far too well.
Let us dispense easily with any attacks on the journalism in the New Yorker piece. Ronan Farrow just won a Pulitzer for this kind of thing and Jane Mayer is a damn national treasure. Seeing your name as the subject of a story carrying both their bylines is like seeing your career’s death warrant. And Schneiderman’s original statement—that he was engaged in consensual rough sex—was, shall we say, inadequate. (He also allegedly used the considerable power of his office to threaten his victims into silence. Jesus, what a goon.) His swift resignation was more than justified and his disappearance from the ongoing drama of this presidency, while unfortunate, is wholly appropriate. He should’ve been in jail years ago.
Instead, for the purposes of this story, we should focus on one small slice of the account:
After the former girlfriend ended the relationship, she told several friends about the abuse. A number of them advised her to keep the story to herself, arguing that Schneiderman was too valuable a politician for the Democrats to lose. She described this response as heartbreaking. And when Schneiderman heard that she had turned against him, she said, he warned her that politics was a tough and personal business, and that she’d better be careful. She told Selvaratnam that she had taken this as a threat.
Who in the hell counsels a friend to hush up a violent assault on these grounds? My politics are as important to me as anyone’s are but if, say, Sherrod Brown came and burglarized your house, I wouldn’t tell you to let him keep your jewelry because we need him to save Social Security. (Note to Senator Brown: I do not believe you are a cat burglar.) This is turning your politics into a graven image, a golden calf of the soul. Believe it or not, there are some things that politics ought not to touch. Physical abuse of any kind is high on that list.
(Not for nothing, and it’s a trivial matter compared to the horrors these women say they went through, but the great Dave Dayen has been making the case on the electric Twitter machine that, as a political actor and prosecutor, Schneiderman was pretty much a show-pony anyway.)
These instincts, alas, kicked in almost immediately after Schneiderman’s swift exit from the scene. There were instant calls for Preet Bhahara to replace Schneiderman. (Dayen’s not high on this idea, either.) These were based largely on the fact that Bhahara was 86’d by the president* after having been a thorn in his side as a U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. And, just for fun, and for the possibility that the mere rumor would cause the president* to paint his body blue and dance a naked tarantella on the Truman Balcony, I suggested that we get the hashtag, #HRCforNYAG trending.
Preet Bharara. Getty Images
In truth, however, the search for a replacement should not be the search for A Name. For example, there are a lot of people saying good things about Ben Lawsky, a former U.S. Attorney and New York’s first Superintendent of Financial Services, an office created in response to the economic meltdown of 2008-2009. Just a cursory search of the Intertoobz reveals Lawsky to have exactly the kind of attitude that this job needs going forward. In 2014, he said this to The Financial Times:
“Corporations are a legal fiction. You have to deter bad individual conduct within corporations. People who did the conduct are going to be held accountable.”
Hire this man immediately.
Because, even though there is great crowing within the pixels this morning about liberal hypocrisy and how no investigation of the current president* can be trusted, the work goes on. Lawyers and investigators you never heard of are beavering away—in Robert Mueller’s offices, and in the chambers of the New York Attorney General, whoever he may turn out to be. You’re still on the hook, Knocko. There’s just going to be someone new on the other end of the line. And, once the evidence is in, one way or the other, we shouldn’t look to some famous politician to tell us what to do with it. Once we know the truth, it’s on us to provide the consequences.
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