Susan Estrich: Spitzer Scandal Hurts Hillary

I hate to say no to Neil Cavuto. I consider him a friend, a great host and a truly fine human being.

And I’m generally pleased to turn myself into a pretzel, and turn my schedule upside down, to accommodate a visit to the L.A. bureau even if his show does air squarely in the middle of a busy day. So when I first heard from his producer this morning, my reaction was to do what I always do: move appointments, jiggle with my schedule, and throw a suit jacket into the backseat of the car.

But, even a pretzel can only twist around so much.

And no matter how I twist it, there is just no way I can argue, with an even remotely straight face, that the Spitzer scandal helps the presidential candidate he endorsed, Hillary Clinton.

The short answer is: it doesn’t. The only real question is how much it hurts.

Of course it’s not fair.

Eliot Spitzer’s fatal flaw – whether you characterize it as his proclivity for prostitutes or his poor judgment in arranging his affairs - has absolutely nothing to do with Hillary Clinton, who shares neither version of the flaw.

But you can’t look at Silda Wall Spitzer, standing by her man, at least behind the podium as he resigns from the office both of them worked so hard to help him win, and not think of Hillary Clinton.

You can’t read stories of the two of them holed up in their Fifth Avenue apartment, with Silda, lawyer and wife, talking to her husband’s newly retained attorneys about the prospect for his indictment and the possibility of a deal, without thinking of Hillary Clinton, and the "right wing conspiracy" that she claimed was trying to do in her innocent husband.

She was right about the conspiracy, even if she was wrong about his role in providing them the ammunition. But mostly, what watching her made women feel was uncomfortable.

In what has to be the most offensive interview yet on the Spitzer scandal, Dr. Laura told Today’s Meredith Vieira that Spitzer’s wanderings were, basically, his wife’s fault.

"Are you saying the women should feel guilty, like they somehow drove the man to cheat?" responded Vieira, who understandably thought she hadn’t heard her correctly. She had.

"Yes," Dr. Laura replied, "I hold women accountable for tossing out perfectly good men by not treating them with the love and kindness and respect and attention they need."

So far as I know, Silda Spitzer hasn’t tossed Eliot out yet. Whether she will or not only she knows.

But it was Hillary’s failure to do precisely that that led many women who were very much like her not to like her very much in the wake of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Ironically, many women had an easier time forgiving the President for straying than they did forgiving his wife for staying.

What made it worse, for Hillary, in the eyes of women, was the idea that she kept her marriage together because of her own ambitions.

In the early days of her first Senate campaign, Hillary faced substantial defections from women voters, who agreed with her on the issues, but found the "stand by your man" routine to be just the sort of face in the mirror they didn’t want to see.

Bad enough that women who were economically dependent on their husbands should have to put up with the humiliation, but if one of the strongest and most successful women in the world doesn’t throw him out on his ear, what does that say? It was only after her then opponent took a very patronizing, dare I say sexist, tone in his debate with his female rival that women voters came home to Hillary.

It’s hard to feel too sorry for Eliot. As more details emerge, it becomes clear just how stupid, and arrogant, he was.

I taught him criminal law when he was in law school. I sent him off to become a prosecutor when he graduated. He was no naif in the dark about the tools of criminal investigation, or the reach of federal statutes.

He had to know, or at least one part of his brain did, that when you do large wire transfers, you trigger suspicion; when you arrange on your cell phone for a prostitute to cross state lines, you enter into the realm of federal criminal law.

I’ve been using the aptly named Mann Act (the law that prohibits bringing women across state lines for sex) as a joke line in criminal law since I started teaching the class in Eliot’s day. I can, and do, feel sympathy for a decent guy who will pay, for the rest of his life, for his foolishness, but I am amazed by the willful blindness that would allow him to behave this way and assume he wouldn’t be caught.

It’s Silda Spitzer I feel for here. It was his wife who I couldn’t take my eyes off in watching both Monday’s announcement and Wednesday’s resignation, her public humiliation, and how difficult it must be for her to talk to her three teenage daughters about this betrayal, that moves me. And in thinking about her, I cannot help but think of Hillary as well.

These are not the memories that the Clinton campaign would ever choose to bring up in these critical weeks between Super Tuesday II and Pennsylvania.

If there were one experience we Democrats would like to forget, especially those of us who are feminists, it is the painful aftermath of the news about Monica Lewinsky, the pretzels we became in trying to defend the President from impeachment, accept Hillary’s indignation at face value, avert our eyes as we saw them struggling to maintain some semblance of dignity in dealing with each other.

Not fun to watch. Or remember.

The Clinton campaign should be glad that there is still another month before Pennsylvania. Women may need time to forget. Again.

Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California. She was Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the first woman President of the Harvard Law Review. She is a columnist for Creators Syndicate and has written for USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.

Estrich's books include the just published "Soulless," "The Case for Hillary Clinton," "How to Get Into Law School," "Sex & Power," "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System" and "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women."

She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel, in addition to writing the "Blue Streak" column for