Many people, including those at major newspapers and in government, have been calling for Spitzer to resign because of his alleged involvement with a prostitute. This raises the specific question about whether he should resign or not as well as the more general question about when public officials should step down in regards to illegal and immoral actions.
As it stands, it is alleged that Spitzer is facing the following legal and moral accusations.
First, he is accused of having been involved with a rather expensive prostitute. Prostitution is illegal where the event is alleged to take place and Spitzer, a former attorney general, is obviously well aware of that. As governor, he is expected to uphold and follow the laws of the state. As such, breaking the law in this manner seems to be grounds to expect him to resign. Obviously, not all law breaking should be grounds for resignation. Minor violations, such as having an expired meter or a typical speeding ticket, should not result in an official resigning. More serious violations show both a disrespect for the law and poor judgment-qualities that are certainly undesirable in an official who is supposed to have good judgment and respect the rule of law.
In moral terms, paying a prostitute for sex can be regarded as an immoral action. Some will contend that prostitution is itself inherently immoral. For example, Kant would regard it as treating another rational being as a means only (a means of income for the prostitute and a means of pleasure for the “John”). Having sex with a prostitute while married (assuming one is not married to the prostitute) seems to be a clearly immoral action-it violates the agreement between the two people who are married (unless they agreed to have an “open” marriage, which I suspect it not the case with Spitzer).
If Spitzer, like Bill Clinton, “merely” had an affair, then the claim that he should resign would be less well supported. In this case, he would still most likely have committed an immoral act. He would have also committed a criminal act. Interestingly, adultery is a class B misdemeanor in New York-just like prostitution. As such, they are legally on par. However, adultery is rarely prosecuted and is generally regarded with less stigma than prostitution. As such, people are generally less inclined to insist that adulterers be punished or resign from office. If having sex with a prostitute is worse than having an affair, then there would be less reason for the “mere” adulterer to resign. Most people see affairs as bad (although a significant number of people have them) but they tend to regard prostitution as worse. This might be in part due to the fact that almost everyone knows that prostitution is illegal while few people are aware of laws against adultery (mainly because these cases are almost never prosecuted).
The general question here is whether immoral acts justify a call for resignation. The obvious answer is that it depends on the action. Minor immoralities obviously do not justify such calls-if only on the practical ground that no one would be fit for office. When it comes to more serious moral lapses, the answer depends on the severity of the lapse and its relevance to the office. Spitzer, like many who have been in similar straits, initially tried to present the matter as a personal problem that would require him to earn back the trust of his family. Presumably, it was to be accepted that the action was not relevant to his remaining governor.
While the specific situation does not seem to be merely a private matter, the response is one worth considering. A person can have serious moral failings in certain areas, yet these could be quite irrelevant to his or her capability and reliability in office. For example, a person might be faithless in his or her sexual relations, yet quite competent and reliable as an official. Some people regard Bill Clinton as an example of this. As another example, a person might divorce his loyal wife in order to hook up with a hot, young woman. This seems morally reprehensible, but would not entail that he is unfit for office. As another example, someone might have been utterly ruthless in business and focused entirely on making money within the limits of the law. The person might be vilified for that, but it would not entail that they should not be in office.
While politicians seek the limelight and hence cannot expect to have fully private lives, they are still entitled to the same private-public distinction that everyone else should have. After all, your boss might be sleeping with her pool boy, but that does not entail that she should be fired from her job. Or, as another example, a co-worker might be an insensitive bastard to his wife and family but as long as it does not enter the workplace, there would be no justification to fire him. When the line is crossed into the public realm, then it becomes relevant. For example, if the boss is making moves on a worker or the co-worker is abusing other employees, then it becomes a matter for which they can be fired. The same applies to those in political office.
The second matter is that it has been alleged that Spitzer used state funds to pay for the prostitute. This is both immoral (theft, corruption, betrayal of trust, and so on) and obviously illegal. In this case, the immorality and illegality of the alleged act are quite relevant to the matter of resignation. If the allegation is true, then he has shown that he has acted in a way that a governor should not act. As such, he should resign.
Since I am aware that anyone can have a moral failing, I tried to have some sympathy for him. However, I find myself failing in this regard. As many pointed out, he was rather arrogant in his behavior and this makes it hard to be sympathetic. I do feel bad that someone, for whatever reason, made the wrong choice. I am sorry about the damage that has been done to the citizens of New York.
I do feel sorry for his wife and children. If the charges are true, he has betrayed and hurt them in a very public way. While it is easy for his enemies to rejoice in his failure, they should pause and think about how this will hurt his family. It is tempting to cheer the fall of such a person, but such cheers should always be tempered by the knowledge that such people do not fall alone.