Bad Mood Rising
Schadenfreude takes the news by storm.


It was a good week — exceedingly good — for Schadenfreude, which is one of those words that you had to italicize not that long ago but that has, lately, become a part of the street vocabulary. As in, “Man, wasn’t that was some heavy Schadenfreude? You know, all that you-know-what that came down. First, on Spitzer; then Dickie Scruggs; and, finally, Bear Sterns.”

Eliot Spitzer was on track, some said, to make history as the first Jewish president of the United States but will, instead, be remembered as the infamous “Client #9.” The response to his spectacular downfall has been nothing short of gleeful, even bordering on the obscene. Does Sirius Satellite Radio really need to launch a special all-Spitzer-all-the-time channel called, inevitably, “Client #9”?

The man, after all, has precious few defenders; Alan Dershowitz is the most conspicuous, but then again, his defense of O. J. Simpson renders his support a little less powerful. Kicking Spitzer while he is so thoroughly down and without defenders takes on a sheen of self-righteousness, which was one of the things his critics found so objectionable in the man. Turns out, he is just another sinner.

In Vermont, where I live, a couple of the papers tried to find a large lesson in Spitzer’s disgrace. Inevitable, perhaps, as Spitzer, in his first public statement about his troubles, said “I have tried to uphold a vision of progressive politics that would rebuild New York and create opportunity for all.”

“Progressive,” is a word that, in Vermont, does not describe a mere political program or agenda, but a moral vision. Progressives see their role not as custodial but redemptive; salvation through politics is their game. The Rutland Herald, a paper that won a Pulitzer for its editorials in support of civil unions legislation, described the Spitzer scandal as a “Mythic Fall.” Spitzer himself almost certainly agrees. As champion of the Progressive Crusade to make the world a better place through politics, he and his fellow political crusaders saw a fearless leader willing to do whatever necessary to solve the world’s problems. His fall is the fall of a hero — tragic, but epic.

Another Vermont newspaper had a slightly different take. “You can always judge a man by the enemies he makes,” read the opening line of the Brattleboro Reformer’s editorial on l’affaire Spitzer. Brattleboro is the Vermont town famous for voting to indict and arrest Bush and Cheney and, also, at a less sublime altitude, for being a place where they argue about whether people have a right to wander nude in the streets. Brattleboro is the urban epicenter of Vermont-style Progressivism and even after his disgrace, the Reformer was still celebrating Spitzer as a man who bravely “cleaned up Wall Street to make the game a little less rigged for individual investors.”