Oswald Letter

Truth or Consequences: Not So Much

Help me out here. Less than 48 hours ago, I wrote about the need for CEOs to earn back the trust of their employees and gave a few suggestions about how they might do that. This morning I turn on the television to find none other than Elliot Spitzer providing commentary on the current state of the economy and the regulatory changes necessary to right our financial system. Not only that, but the network he appeared on showed poll results indicating that the majority of New Yorkers would prefer to have Spitzer back in the governor’s mansion in place of his successor, Gov. David Patterson.

What’s going on here? Gov. Spitzer, who made his reputation as New York’s attorney general, strictly enforcing ethics rules and chasing corruption (whether real or perceived), was undone by his involvement with prostitutes. Just a little over a year after his resignation, he appears to be successfully returning to public life and even has the support of the majority of voters from his home state.

The man’s own wife couldn’t trust him, but obviously that doesn’t matter to New York voters. Nor do they seem to care that Gov. Spitzer put himself in a compromising position that could have been used against him for the gain of others. It’s not hard to imagine someone finding out about his involvement with prostitutes (since it happened) and, instead of taking it public, using it to quietly blackmail the governor of the third largest state in the union.

I don’t get it. Here I’m arguing that trust, once breached, is difficult to regain. Obviously that’s not true for Elliot Spitzer. He crawls out from under a rock after 13 or 14 months and his constituents welcome him back with open arms. He has done nothing to demonstrate that he’s worthy of their trust. He can’t point to a track record of being on the straight and narrow. He says nothing at all, and what he did is forgotten?

Maybe I underestimate people’s willingness to forgive and forget. I’m more of a “Fool me once, shame on you — fool me twice, shame on me” kind of guy. Spitzer fooled the people who put their trust in him once, are they going to give him a chance to do it again without the least bit of skepticism? If they do, maybe our CEOs aren’t as bad off as I made out the other day.