The Moralist Demoralized: Virtue, Vice and the Spitzer Spritzer

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Maximum leader busted for having lusted? Teddy’s (Brooklyn) is ready!

“So long as there is lust in the hearts of men,” we are told, “it will seek out some method of expression. Until the hearts of men are changed we can hope for no absolute annihilation of the Social Evil.” But at the head of the report in black-faced type we read: “Constant and persistent repression of prostitution the immediate method; absolute annihilation the ultimate ideal.” –Walter Lipmann, A Preface to Politics (1914), Chapter V, “Well Meaning But Unmeaning: The Chicago Vice Report”

January FBI stakeout of Spitzer reported: theSan Jose Mercury News reports on the hooker scandal threatening to topple New York governor Eliot Spitzer.

Hooker scandals are always good for getting, ahem, a rise out of the public. For a some trans- and cis-Andean case studies, see

I had occasion to have morning coffee with a fellow gringo yesterday near the Av. Paulista yesterday and noted that the hotel where the guy was staying had a bronze plaque prominently displayed saying, basically, that this was not the kind of place you could bring drug-addicted teenaged hookers working in conditions tantamount to slavery back to for fun and games.

“We will call the cops.” (The ones not pimping on the side, that is.)

I remember interviewing a New York historian a few years ago, author of a study of “Wall Street in American life” — I had a page to fill and precious little time to fill it — about the reputation the financial sector has (a whole lot of it folkloric, but some of it deserved) for mercilessly fleecing honest citizens.

The man compared a possible Spitzer governorship to the reform governorship of Charles Evan Hughes, with Wall Street playing the role of the new Tammany Hall.

Now, we are reading tons of analysis along the lines of “the moralist demoralized.”

As if ransacking other people’s hard-earned savings and paying outrageous sums for a blow-job were morally equivalent.

Teddy’s in Brooklyn — a legendary dive bar about to be bulldozed to make way for a basketball stadium, if I remember right — is offering a happy hour special on Spitzer Spritzers, also known as The Hypocrite’s Delight (above).

NEW YORK – Weeks before the hotel meeting with a prostitute that now threatens to derail his career, the FBI staked out New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer at the same hotel in an unsuccessful effort to catch him in the same activity, according to a person with knowledge of the investigation.

Mission: Catch Eliot getting his ashes hauled. The revelation is pretty amazing, but still only a 6.0 on the Richter scale alongside the 7.9 that was the furor over Jim “I Am a Gay American” McGreevey (D–New Jersey).

The FBI placed a surveillance team on Spitzer at the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel for the first time Jan. 26, after concluding from a wiretapped conversation that he might try to meet with a prostitute when he traveled to Washington to attend a black-tie dinner, the source said Tuesday.

Will he stay or will he go? The comparison with the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal is inevitable.

I have been arguing at the old water cooler that it is a lot sleazier, in moral terms, to seduce a young intern than it is to hire a consenting adult to perform sexual gymnastics for your amusement.

Politically, on the other hand, it’s a disaster. What if the hooker-running mob starts blackmailing the bald legal eagle, for example? The guy has got to go. His Harlem Democrat lieutenant governor would take over.

As new details emerged about the extent of the FBIs surveillance of Spitzer, the embattled governor spent the day secluded with his family. He also met with a few close aides and his attorney in his Fifth Avenue apartment, weighing whether to resign or to face calls for his impeachment.

Relatedly: The RecordNews network (Brazil) reports that, with the repression of the caça-níqueis gambling machine business in Rio de Janeiro, the low-tech jogo do bicho (numbers racket or underground lottery) is flourishing again, even in downtown Rio.

They get some interview footage of a bicho agent who operates right across the street from the HQ of the state judicial police. This is a classic “gotcha” moment in Brazilian TV journalism: The vice (crack-smoking, teenaged hooking, bicho, smash and grab robberies, black-market currency exchange) being practiced right under the noses of the cops!

The man threatens to “call that delegado [police commander] friend of mine” if Record continues to film him and runs the footage without his permission.

See also

Lipmann’s chapter on the Chicago Vice Commission from his 1914 book — before he drifted into the defense of benevolent authoritarianism — makes an interesting counterpoint, somehow. If I had time today — which I don’t — I would see if I could try to make the connection in a nifty little essay.

The Chicago Commission had no simple, easily measured problem before it. At the very outset the report confesses that an accurate count of the number of prostitutes in Chicago could not be reached. The police lists are obviously incomplete and perhaps corrupt. The whole amorphous field of clandestine vice will, of course, defeat any census. But even public prostitution is so varied that nobody can do better than estimate it roughly. This point is worth keeping in mind, for it lights up the remedies proposed. What the Commission advocates is the constant repression and the ultimate annihilation of a mode of life which refuses discovery and measurement.

The report estimates that there are five thousand women in Chicago who devote their whole time to the traffic; that the annual profits in that one city alone are between fifteen and sixteen million dollars a year. These figures are admittedly low for they leave out all consideration of occasional, or seasonal, or hidden prostitution. It is only the nucleus that can be guessed at; the fringe which shades out into various degrees of respectability remains entirely unmeasured. Yet these suburbs of the Tenderloin must always be kept in mind; their population is shifting and very elastic; it includes the unsuspected; and I am inclined to believe that it is the natural refuge of the “suppressed” prostitute. Moreover it defies control.

The 1,012 women recognized on the police lists are of course the most easily studied. From them we can gather some hint of the enormous bewildering demand that prostitution answers. The Commission informs us that this small group alone receives over fifteen thousand visits a day–five million and a half in the year. Yet these 1,012 women are only about one-fifth of the professional prostitutes in Chicago. If the average continues, then the figures mount to something over 27,000,000.

27,000,000 hooker-john transactions per annum, he means.

The five thousand professionals do not begin to represent the whole illicit traffic of a city like Chicago. Clandestine and occasional vice is beyond all measurement.

The figures I have given are taken from the report. They are said to be conservative. For the purposes of this discussion we could well lower the 27,000,000 by half. All I am concerned about is in arriving at a sense of the enormity of the impulse behind the “social evil.” For it is this that the Commission proposes to repress, and ultimately to annihilate.

Lust has a thousand avenues. The brothel, the flat, the assignation house, the tenement, saloons, dance halls, steamers, ice-cream parlors, Turkish baths, massage parlors, street-walking–the thing has woven itself into the texture of city life. Like the hydra, it grows new heads, everywhere. It draws into its service the pleasures of the city. Entangled with the love of gaiety, organized as commerce, it is literally impossible to follow the myriad expressions it assumes.

The Commission gives a very fair picture of these manifestations. A mass of material is offered which does in a way show where and how and to what extent lust finds its illicit expression. Deeper than this the report does not go. The human impulses which create these social conditions, the human needs to which they are a sad and degraded answer–this human center of the problem the commission passes by with a platitude.

“So long as there is lust in the hearts of men,” we are told, “it will seek out some method of expression. Until the hearts of men are changed we can hope for no absolute annihilation of the Social Evil.” But at the head of the report in black-faced type we read:

“Constant and persistent repression of prostitution the immediate method; absolute annihilation the ultimate ideal.”

I am not trying to catch the Commissioners in a verbal inconsistency. The inconsistency is real, out of a deep-seated confusion of mind. Lust will seek an expression, they say, until “the hearts of men are changed.” All particular expressions are evil and must be constantly repressed. Yet though you repress one form of lust, it will seek some other. Now, says the Commission, in order to change the hearts of men, religion and education must step in. It is their business to eradicate an impulse which is constantly changing form by being “suppressed.”

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