But it’s time to leave petty personal
peccadilloes aside. As McCain would remind us, it’s time to put aside
things like party affiliation, presidential debates, history and even
long-held principles, and bring back the man who rode shotgun on the
financial industry all through the 1990s.
This is the guy who struck fear into the
hearts of the Stearns’ bears and the Gold Men’s sacks. He told us not
to trust, but to regulate, and when they broke the rules, he made them
pay. Corporate greed, it turned out, was his second favorite sin, but
he patrolled his beat with a vengeance only heaven could appreciate.
He could have saved us from all this—if only we had listened to him.
And if he hadn’t run for governor. And
that stupid hooker—what was her name? The American-looking one. All
this misery and fuss because people got in a hissy fit about the
governor spending $10,000 on some adulterated nookie. Now you’re going
to watch brokers getting lots more for screwing us than Eliot ever paid
for doing the same to his fancy escort girls. I’m pretty sure
Kristen–wasn’t that her name that day?—didn’t get any golden parachute.
To tap into the sheriff’s wisdom, I
drove down to Colombia County. You could tell that things have been a
little tense around the farmhouse lately. I found Spitzer in the
basement all by himself. He looked like he needed a shave. Well, he
always looked like he needed a shave, but this was way beyond Ho Chi
Minh, beyond Solzhenitsyn, hairy. He was starting to resemble Howard
Hughes during his Managua years.
Silda has been, understandably, a little
distant from Eliot. He’s biding his time. For most of the time since
March he’s been confined to a single room in the basement. No cell
phone. No Internet. No conjugal visits. Therapy twice a week, but
that’s pretty much it. And cable. Tuned in to Bloomberg and CNBC. He’s
hoping Silda will accept his sackcloth and ashes routine and eventually
let him upstairs to read the paper in the breakfast nook. Eventually.
It’s got to be tough. A year ago Spitzer
was on top of the world—the governor of New York just waiting his turn
to become the first Jewish president of the United States. Now he’s got
to deal with an angry wife who’s watching Michelle Obama with envy.
On my visit, Spitzer seemed eager to talk; no one asks his opinion any more.
Are we going to be OK, I asked. Is $700 billion enough to stem the bleeding?
I sat across from him on a pillow on the floor. He was ready. He didn’t skip a beat. But seriously, what would Eliot say?
I think he would say that bipartisanship
may be a nice word but it is a very bad idea if deployed in the service
of an idea that is even worse. I think he would say that giving the
secretary of the Treasury a blank check is like endorsing a military
I think he would say that if you give
the government a checking account with $700 billion in it and only
require one signature on the check, you may soon find a man at your
door asking for another $700 billion. Or requesting that you put your
firstborn child out on the curb for collection. It worked the first
time, didn’t it?
But a lot of people are saying that.
Spitzer always thinks a few steps ahead. He would say that the second
act of this drama, if they get the bailout, has to be watched with
great care. Come next year, it will be like the sequel to Communism in
Russia. There were all these enormous companies being sold, at great
prices, and only a few people had the money or access to credit—and
they bought them up, creating monopolies and textbook cases of crony
He would say that you should especially
be concerned if you live in New York, a state where so much of the tax
base depends on Wall Street. Why? Because if the federal government
owns the assets that were once private, you have to wonder: Will they
pay state and local taxes? The federal government doesn’t pay real
estate taxes on the Federal Building in downtown Syracuse. Who’s to say
whether AIG property owned by the feds will pay property taxes—or state
taxes? And if they don’t, who will pay for your kids to go to school?
And then, he would note, there is the
matter of Social Security. The Bush people have always wanted to make
Social Security a semi-private affair. This is their chance. Next
spring, if we get through this, the feds will be looking to sell off a
lot of stock at a really good price.
Politicians of both parties will come to
you with a simple offer. Whaddya say we take some of that Social
Security trust fund and invest it in the stock market? On the one hand,
we can do as we always have, and put it in Treasury bills. On the other
hand, there are all these cute little stocks sitting around waiting to
get purchased at bargain prices.
So many things to think through and so
little time. Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury
Secretary Henry Paulsen are looking nothing but tired. Spitzer’s had a
lot of time to do nothing but think.
Move over, Andrew. Anyone can run for governor. This is a job for the sheriff.
Eliot, phone home.