Wednesday, March 12, 2008

America's Profumo

Both the Albany Times-Union and the New York Times have commented that the circumstances of Governor Spitzer's fall are unique in the history of New York.

There is, however, a close historical parallel:   the fall of British politician and Member of Parliament John Profumo, nearly 45 years ago.

Profumo, like Spitzer, was a shining star of his generation in his country's political life.   Both Spitzer and Profumo came from wealth.   Spitzer's education took him through Princeton and Harvard, Profumo's through Harrow and Oxford.   Both married accomplished and beautiful women.  As Spitzer was thought a potential future President, Profumo was widely considered a future Prime Minister.   Both were brought down by liaisons with prostitutes and were forced to resign.

The "Profumo Affair," an episode still almost universally remembered in Britain, became the subject of the 1989 film Scandal.   In the role of Profumo, Ian McKellen conveyed a glimpse of what must be the wrenching personal hell of not just a career, but a life, ruined.   In a scene near the end, set in the opulent gardens of his country estate, on a perfect day and surrounded by the most potent icons of great wealth, Profumo tends his roses, his eyes brimming with tears.

What the film did not address was the next great issue for John Profumo, and now for Eliot Spitzer:   what to do with the rest of your life.   Profumo began to work as a volunteer cleaning toilets at Toynbee Hall, a charity based in the East End of London.   He worked there the rest of his life, becoming its chief fundraiser and architect of its success and prominence.   Through this work he rehabilitated his reputation.

John Profumo died in 2006.   His story is told more fully in this obituary in the Daily Telegraph.

This morning Governor Spitzer said, ". . . our greatest glory consists not in never falling but in rising every time we fall."

In the years ahead former Governor Spitzer will have to find his own Toynbee Hall.  May he find it.  And with it, that redemption as a man that his unlikely counterpart, of years ago and far away, ultimately attained.

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