Eliot Spitzer always felt most comfortable as an outsider crusading against entrenched interests. He felt second-most-comfortable wearing black socks and screwing hookers bareback while choking them. Two is over, but Goldman Sachs' gluttony offers him another shot at Number One.
Spitzer's rehabilitation into public life has aligned cosmically with the economic collapse: He first dipped his toe into the waters with a Washington Post op-ed last November that leveraged his reputation as the deposed "Sheriff of Wall Street" to urge Obama to impose tough regulation over the banking sector, and he launched a column at Slate a month later. His first television interview after leaving office was cunningly—or perhaps just fortunately—scheduled for a week last March when the furor over bonuses to AIG executives was at its most intense.
Since then, Spitzer has worked himself into semi-regular rotation on MSNBC and the network morning news shows as a stern voice of populism when it comes to the bailout of the financial industry. His tarnished past has in some ways enhanced his credibility—he's a damaged man who has been through the crucible and who can, by virtue of his having lost everything, only now afford to speak the complete truth. And speak he has: Last week, his scathing indictment of Goldman Sachs and the New York Fed on MSNBC made the blog rounds, largely because he is the most prominent and knowledgeable public figure who has been willing so far to state the obvious fact that the AIG bailout was a "Ponzi scheme" and an "inside job" designed to benefit Goldman and other banks without forcing them to surrender equity stakes to the American taxpayer.
The positive reaction to Spitzer's eagerness to take on Goldman—whom he had previously prosecuted, along with a bevy of other investment banks, as attorney general—points to a way forward for him. He's got his villain. The emerging resentment of Goldman as the bete noir of the banking crisis has largely coalesced thus far around Matt Taibbi, the author of a Rolling Stone takedown of the firm that gained widespread attention but has been criticized for, among other things, trafficking in anti-Semitic tropes. Taibbi is an entertaining writer and reporter, but he's just reporter. Spitzer's embrace of the anti-Goldman banner lends the cause a legitimacy that elevates it beyond conspiracy-mongering, and lends Spitzer something with which to identify himself beyond his love of hookers.
So what next? Spitzer should refashion himself as a shadow prosecutor, or shadow inspector general—he should be to Goldman Sachs what Ralph Nader was to General Motors. (Goldman isn't the only bank that profited wrongly from the AIG bailout, but it stands as a clear and handy surrogate for a vast and difficult-to-comprehend industry; Nader's auto-safety campaign focused on GM's Corvair, but all cars now have seatbelts.) The New York Post has reported that Spitzer is planning a run to retake his post as New York's attorney general, a fantastically stupid move that displays the same sort of hubris that it takes to engage the services of a high-end prostitution ring while you're a sitting governor.
We hope he's learned something from his trials and stays in the private sector—he should launch a nonprofit focused on monitoring the bailout along the lines of CREW or any of Nader's organizations and apply his prosecutorial gifts to civil litigation in the public interest, aimed at getting documentary evidence through the discovery process of how banks like Goldman gamed the system and harvested our money into profits. It'd be the best way he can do penance for his misdeeds and satisfy his own desire for glory and attention.