Eliot Spitzer isn’t sorry. Not really.

July 9, 2013

The first thing Eliot Spitzer wants you to know is that he's sorry.

"I have spent five years reflecting, thinking, apologizing, and I am ready to ask forgiveness," Spitzer, the disgraced former governor, told the hosts of MSNBC's "Morning Joe" this morning when questioned about the prostitution scandal that led to his resignation in 2008.


Former New York governor Eliot Spitzer is seeking political redemption.

It's a line -- or, at least, a sentiment -- he has used to start virtually every interview he has given (and he's given lots of them) since he told the New York Times on Sunday that he was running to be New York City's next comptroller.

But, here's the truth. Spitzer isn't really all that sorry.

Yes, he undoubtedly regrets the pain and suffering he caused his wife and his family. (He teared up near the end of the "Morning Joe" interview when asked about the pain he had brought on his family.) And he, without question, regrets derailing a political career that many people -- most especially Spitzer himself -- thought would end in the White House.

What Spitzer's not really sorry for is how the public perceives how he acted in his private life. Time and again during the interview on "Morning Joe" Spitzer, whether wittingly or unwittingly, made that fact quite clear.

Asked by Mika Brzezinski about the various tabloid headlines bashing his past indiscretions, Spitzer replied: "I am mystified by the attention and the focus on that."

Spitzer really revealed his thinking, however, in a back and forth with Time's Mark Halperin.

"There is a difference between public and private lives," Spitzer said in response to a question about whether lying to the public was disqualifying for a public official. "There is a divide there that is something we do want to think about at a certain point and time." We all know politicians dissemble all the time about negotiations on substantive issues and probably on personal issues as well."

Later, Spitzer added: "I lied about personal sexual activity."

Read between the lines of Spitzer's remarks and here's what you get: He simply doesn't believe that his actions as a private citizen could or should heavily impact how the voting public judges his actions in elected office. He views his frequenting of a prostitution service as a personal foible that pales in comparison to the record he built up as state attorney general and then governor, crusading against the excessives of Wall Street.

Spitzer knows that the immutable laws of politics are such that he can't come out and say that. He has to show appropriate contrition before moving on. But, he also quite clearly believes he has paid the price for his mistakes and that his involvement in the prostitution ring shouldn't be a focus -- for the media or for voters -- in the campaign to come.

It's unlikely he'll get his wish as it relates to the media coverage of the comptroller race. We won't find out whether or not voters care until the September primary -- assuming, of course, that Spitzer is able to make the ballot.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Ruth Tam | July 9, 2013