Spitzer and Me

by Ramesh Ponnuru

As Ian Tuttle wrote yesterday, Eliot Spitzer chose to bring up an article I wrote in 2004 while campaigning. (I mention it in my conversation with Margaret Carlson about his return today.) Specifically, I’m told, he said that the article had faulted him for going after subprime mortgage lending but events have proven him right. Would that all my articles were remembered so long!

With all that time passed, it’s not surprising that it has not been remembered very well. The thesis of my article was that Spitzer, then New York’s attorney general, represented a new kind of legal activism in which state officials tried to set national policy through litigation, and that this activism was a threat to constitutional government. In the course of describing his activism, I made half a paragraph’s worth of criticism of his crusade against the lenders. But I went on to say that Spitzer was within his rights to go after them. The Treasury Department had stopped Spitzer from pursuing his campaign. I wrote that “Washington should probably back off on subprime mortgage lending: Let Spitzer take whatever action he wishes. So long as the costs of regulation are borne inside the state, there is a limit to how far it will go.”

That subprime lending was a major cause of the crash has now become the conventional wisdom, and I don’t begrudge Spitzer for claiming a measure of vindication. (I am skeptical of the conventional wisdom on this point, as it happens.) But his rebuke would be better directed at an overreaching federal government than at me — and denouncing overreaching government would be a nice change of habits for the candidate.

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