Another alpha male caught behaving badly: Why do they do it?

The Baltimore Sun

Here's the $4,000 question in the Eliot Spitzer case: Why did he do it?

Mr. Spitzer, alias "Client 9" to authorities, stepped down as governor of New York yesterday after it was disclosed last week that he was caught on a federal wiretap discussing payments and arranging to meet a prostitute in a Washington hotel room in February.

The adultery, in these times, is not as scandalous as the hypocrisy, incongruity and self-destructive recklessness. Client 9 had it all: an Ivy League education; money; power; a supportive, Harvard Law-educated wife and three young daughters.

Why would Mr. Spitzer, a Democrat who soared into political stardom as "the sheriff of Wall Street" - a crusading prosecutor against prostitution, no less - risk it all, allegedly to order $1,000-an-hour whoopee to his hotel room as casually as others might order room service?

As a savvy politician in Scott Simon's Windy City, a hilarious satirical novel about politics in Chicago, observes, "The depressing truth, your lordship, is that there's almost no sex in political sex scandals. ... Nobody has the time. Nobody has the oomph. You see someone, you flirt, you send off sparks. She writes something on a napkin. But before the night is over you've got 20 business calls to return. ... And you've got to get to sleep because you've got to get up early. For a prayer breakfast."

Or in Mr. Spitzer's case, to testify in front of a congressional subcommittee about regulations on the bond industry.

Why take the risk? Maybe because he is what he is. He's an alpha male, a social animal to whom others in the species follow and defer. Alpha males and females are ambitious, self-confident, competitive and opinionated.

They also can be overly impressed by their abilities to get away with stuff. Mr. Spitzer is no more reckless than Idaho Republican Sen. Larry E. Craig, an outspoken opponent of gay marriage, who was caught in a Minneapolis airport men's room sex sting.

Or former Rep. Mark Foley, a Florida Republican champion of the fight against sexual predators, who resigned after sending suggestive e-mails to House pages.

Or Detroit's married Democratic Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who, among other recent scandals, is accused of sending sexy text messages to his mistress over his government-issued cell phone.

And, of course, there is Bill Clinton. Well, need I say more?

Yes, the Spitzer story has a familiar ring: alpha males behaving badly, often in the very activities they publicly deplore.

Why do rich and/or powerful men risk so much? Judy Kurianski, one of the legions of family therapists who have been called into action by journalists and talk shows in a post-Spitzer surge, told me that the answer boils down simply to this:

"It's in the limbic system."

Eh? That's the pleasure center in the brain, she said. It handles "motor skills and primitive impulses."

Oh. In other words, the intelligent, angelic part of the brain that tells you, "No, no, this is wrong, you'll never get away with it," is completely overwhelmed by the devilish part that says: "C'mon! You can do it! You're superman. You're the expert on catching people who do this. You know how to avoid getting caught!"

The most shameful aspect of these sordid political sex stories comes when the perpetrating pol drags his mortified wife to stand-by-her-man before the cameras for the ritualistic mea culpas. A diamond ring larger than the one Kobe Bryant bought his wife after his own sexual indiscretion was exposed can't make up for the shame and, it must be said, health risk that Mr. Spitzer and others have brought to their spouses.

Oh, sure, women sometimes cheat. Perhaps as more alpha females work their way up into corridors of power, we will see some gender-role reversals at the media confessionals. But, for now, it's the guys who make news - not primarily because they want sex but because they're not nearly as clever as they thought they were.

Clarence Page is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. His column appears weekly in The Sun. His e-mail is

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