Sin, forgiveness, redemption. These were all words out of Eliot Spitzer's mouth as he announced his campaign for New York City comptroller, running against the former madam, Kristin Davis, from whom, she says, he procured prostitutes some years ago.
This sounds like some biblical parable. In fact, they all do. Most recently, Mark Sanford, former disgraced governor (and now congressman) of South Carolina and former congressman Anthony Weiner, who is running for mayor of New York City, have invoked faith in their attempts at resurrection.
The language of the fallen has taken on an alarming religious tone, from people who seemed not to consider their faith before they "sinned."
Whether you believe in sin or not, it's a very convenient word when you're trying to get back in the game.
The idea is you can sin, cheat, lie, break the law, humiliate your family, betray your constituents, dishonor yourself, and it will all be fine once you exploit the rhetoric of religion.
"I sinned. I owned up to it," Spitzer told CBS. "I'm hopeful there will be forgiveness."
Forgiveness: "To give up resentment against, pardon an offender."
And "I think anybody who's been through what I have been through - sure you want redemption."
Redemption: "The act of saving or state of being saved from the power of evil."
But never mind if there is no forgiveness or redemption. Spitzer (and the others) can live with it. As Spitzer himself says, to get through something like this and put yourself back in the public eye, "you need a skin as thick as a rhinoceros has." And does he ever. Wouldn't a headline like the one in the New York Post - "Here We Ho Again!" - make any normal person want to go crawl into a cave and stay there forever? But no. If you are lucky enough not to be able to feel shame, you're good to go.
Shame: "The painful emotion arising from the consciousness of something dishonoring, ridiculous or indecorous in one's own conduct or circumstances."
You have to love Davis, who is running against Spitzer on the Libertarian ticket. And, yes, he got into the race after she did, knowing full well the media circus that would befall him over that.
Davis, the Manhattan madam who ran an escort Service, calls it as she sees it. She famously said, "The career politicians in Albany are the biggest whores in this state. I might be the only person sitting on this podium qualified to deal with them." She is very angry at Spitzer (her service's Client No. 9), and rightly so. For her transgressions, she spent three months in prison. "I sat in Riker's Island, I came out penniless, and nothing happened to him. The hypocrisy there is huge."
Spitzer said on TV that he was running for office because he wanted to be of "service." But that's all Davis wanted, too.
The fact is that Sanford got elected to Congress, Weiner has a good chance of being elected mayor and Spitzer is probably the most qualified person to be comptroller.
What's the moral of this story? It is that they are right. It really doesn't matter to the public what politicians do in their private lives. Values, ethics and morals are of no consequence to the average voter. We do not expect or demand that our leaders are decent people. We respond to narcissists, liars and cheats no differently than we do to honorable people. These guys know it. Of course they experience pain. Spitzer even teared up talking about his "pain" on TV the other day. However, the pain they are feeling is the pain of getting caught and of losing their jobs, not the pain or anguish of hurting others. If that were so they wouldn't put themselves out there again. How do you think Spitzer's wife and daughters felt about "Here We Ho Again!"? How does Weiner's wife feel, knowing there will be other pictures in the tabloids, especially if he wins? How did Sanford's children feel, standing with his mistress?
These are not men of faith. If they want to feed their egos and go after power, never really apologizing sufficiently for what they have done, if their families choose to enable them, so be it.
But please, please, spare us the protestations of religion while they're at it.
And please, please, as Jesus would say, "Go and sin no more."
Sally Quinn writes for The Washington Post.