Thursday, March 13, 2008

And the winner is . . .

The Name-the-Spitzer-Scandal Contest produced a number of fine entries, which you can read in the comments section. (Note to email subscribers. You'll have to go to the web version to see the comments.) I would have been happy to defer to the consensus choice of readers, but none seemed to emerge. And so I have to make the call myself.

I want to begin by criticizing my own initial entry, "Eliot Mess" or "Eliot's Mess." Although this does have multiple layers of meaning, it's at bottom just a play on the Governor's name and the fact that he used to be a hard-nosed prosecutor. It fails to capture what was ultimately the core of the scandal and the reason Spitzer could not survive it: hypocrisy. Spitzer's whole brand was a kind of squeaky cleanness, and the reference to Eliot Ness certainly captures that. However, "mess" is just too generic to capture that what Spitzer did was to violate the very norms he so assiduously sought to enforce against others.

A number of entries used references to Spitzer's secret identity as "Client 9," which is very promising, but none tied it in any specific way to the scandal's core. I tried to come up with some Client-9 ideas of my own. "Gov ________ Client 9" seemed like it had possibilities but I couldn't find anything to fit the blank. Words that rhyme with potion include "emotion," "commotion" and "ocean," but none quite goes anywhere. "Gov Commotion Client 9" is basically gibberish.

I then hit upon the idea of an homage to classic B movies. I'll take credit for "Client 9 From the Upper East Side" but this is both too long and again, more about the number 9 than the underlying scandal itself.

So I end up awarding myself the prize for . . . wait for it . . . "The Scarlet Number." Eliot Spitzer is not an exact substitute for Hawthorne's Arthur Dimmesdale, but the broad themes are the same: The seemingly most righteous man in the community, and its moral leader, is secretly guilty of the very sins he condemns in others. Only when he is about to be exposed does he come clean, and though partly redeemed by the act, it destroys him.

That's my take, anyway. For another use of the number, check out Sherry Colb's new FindLaw column, Client 9 and President 42: Drawing Parallels Between Spitzer and Clinton.

Posted by Mike Dorf