Dershowitz, Lerner: Chill out over Spitzer


We’d usually expect to find Alan Dershowitz and Michael Lerner fighting over Israel, but this week they are standing together – in defending Eliot Spitzer (sort of).

The Dersh weighed in with a piece in the Forward acknowledging that he thinks less of Spitzer, his former research assistant, but insisting that people need to “take a collective deep breath and try to regain a sense of proportion about the essentially private actions of this public man.”

We are a nation of hypocrites who publicly proclaim against acts that so many of the proclaimers perform in private.

Yes, Eliot Spitzer can be charged with hypocrisy for prosecuting prostitution rings while patronizing prostitutes himself. The voters would have every right to hold his hypocrisy against him when he ran for office after completing his term. They could also consider the recklessness of his conduct in evaluating his ability to perform his public functions. But forcing him to resign or using vague criminal statutes to prosecute him for federal crimes for which no one is prosecuted would constitute an abuse of the political and criminal processes.

There is another issue that is potentially quite troubling in this case. The story about how Spitzer’s alleged crimes were discovered does not ring true. … I strongly suspect that we will learn more about how the feds came to focus on Spitzer’s financial transactions. The money laundering statute is so vague and open-ended that it can be used selectively to target political and economic opponents. On this issue, stay tuned. We have not heard the last of it.

As a nation we must learn how to distinguish between sin and crime, between activities that endanger the public and those that harm only the actor and his family. The criminal law should be reserved for serious predatory misconduct.

Michael Lerner, the editor of Tikkun, took a similar approach in a mass e-mail he sent out on the Spitzer controversy, first giving the New York governor a slap, but then setting his sights on other targets:

So Elliot Spitzer deserves to be critiqued and ought to be doing deep atonement for what he did. His previous moral arrogance and willingness when he had power to do so to prosecute others for their participation in creating prostitution rings makes him an easy target. We, in turn, might practice the forgiveness that our religious and spiritual traditions preach, particularly those of us who have been willing to honeslty face how flawed we ourselves are, and how at times we ourselves fail to embody in our actual practice with others the values that we publicly espouse. Humility and compassion are also part of the path of a spiritual progressive.

But the intensity of the critique of the N.Y. governor, tied with the demand that he resign, shows more about American society’s ethical perversity than about Spitzer.

The President of the U.S. and the Vice President, working in concert with several other high ranking officers of our government, lied and distorted to get us involved in a war that has led to the death of over a million Iraqis, the displacement of 3 million more, the death of 4,000 Americans and the wounding of tens of thousands more.

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