Trio of disgraced politicians show that voters have gotten more forgiving
Disgraced former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer is latest to announce comeback bid
Political strategist says shorter turnaround reflects voters lower opinions of politicians
Others say Americans have always been forgiving and avoid appearing judgmental
Politics is full of second chances.
Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford – now U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford – is living proof. Former Rep. Anthony Weiner is trying to travel the same road to political redemption. And now add former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer to the list, as he embarks on a similar journey.
In this age of lighting fast news cycles and fleeting memories, are disgraced politicians sitting in the penalty box for a shorter time before launching a comeback?
A Republican political strategist thinks it reflects a lower opinion of politicians.
“The required waiting time has been greatly condensed in recent years, indicating present voters are holding elected officials to a much lower standard then previous generations,” said John Brabender, a longtime top political adviser to 2012 Republican presidential candidate and former Sen. Rick Santorum.
Spitzer, who resigned in 2008 after revelations he spent thousands of dollars on prostitutes, launched a petition campaign Monday to become New York City comptroller.
“I made significant errors. I stood up, accepted responsibility, resigned. It’s now been five years, I hope the public will extend its forgiveness to me,” the Democrat said Monday morning on radio’s “The Bill Press Show.”
“I think it is a land of forgiveness, of people in their natural goodness (who) understand the fact that…we sin, we pay a price and hopefully continue,” added Spitzer, who served two terms as New York State attorney general before winning election as governor in 2006.
Spitzer, who needs to gather the 3,750 signatures by Thursday to get into the September primary ballot, would be on the same Democratic ballot as Weiner, who is running for mayor and would have the quickest redemption.
Weiner would have the shortest time in time-out should he be elected. He was in his seventh term in Congress, representing parts of the New York City boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn, when he resigned from the House in 2011 amid scandal over lewd photos sent via Twitter.
He talked about getting another chance in the video announcing his candidacy, saying, “I made some big mistakes, and I know I let a lot of people down. But I’ve also learned some tough lessons. I’m running for mayor because I’ve been fighting for the middle class and those struggling my entire life. And I hope I get a second chance to work for you.”
Spitzer, who since stepping down has been a commentator for various news outlets including CNN, disagrees with the Weiner comparison, and said he’s not on a quest for redemption, but instead stressed that he’s motivated by what he said are personal pleas from New Yorkers urging him to get back into public service.
“If that’s what I want, then I don’t think this is the path to it. What I am seeking is service,” he said on CBS “This Morning.”
Republican Sanford’s political career appeared dead after he finished out his term amid repercussions of admitting to an extramarital affair in 2009. But he won redemption in a special election in May to fill a vacant congressional seat in the state’s 1st Congressional District, which he represented before serving as governor.
The media loves a comeback story, if only because it allows them it an opportunity to revisit what brought down that politician in the first place. And redemption stories resonate with the public.
“Voters love a good comeback story – we identify with the underdog and cheer for him as we would for ourselves,” said Republican strategist and CNN contributor Alex Castellanos. “But voters also love justice. We want people to pay for their mistakes.”
Brabender said votes have increasingly shown they are willing to forgive indiscretions.
“It all comes down to how well the scandal is handled, voters assessment of relevance to doing the job, and choosing the right time for re-entry into the political arena,” he said.
Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Paul Begala says faster news cycles and fleeting memories may be behind this year’s trio of comeback bids, “but it may also be a result of a very healthy American aversion to being too judgmental.”
“It used to be an iron law of politics that no divorced person could be president. Then Ronald Reagan proved that wrong,” said Begala, who was a top political adviser to President Bill Clinton and a senior adviser last year to a super PAC that worked for President Barack Obama’s re-election.
“Ultimately politics is about voters’ lives, not politicians – if voters think someone can make a difference in their life, they will overlook personal shortcomings,” he added. “But the key is not to make the campaign about the politician’s need for redemption, but about voters’ need for jobs.”
CNN’s Ashley Killough, Ed Payne and Adam Reiss contributed to this story