Watching Eliot Spitzer jaw-jut his way through his new CNN talk show is a morbid, train-wrecky sort of thrill.
There was a time when great men (and women) who disgraced themselves slouched off into oblivion. And disgrace is hardly too strong a word for Spitzer.
His self-immolation included a ham-handed entanglement with prostitutes, followed by that blood-chilling public moment with his wife, Silda, who looked anesthetized with pain at his side.
Along the way, Spitzer left the state of New York institutionally crippled at a time when we desperately needed steady leadership.
In the first weeks after his downfall, it seemed that the former governor might accept a sort of dignified internal exile. He was spotted walking his dogs in Central Park. There was talk of a quiet law practice.
But no. With the great man dead and buried, CNN decided to prop up the zombified remains.
Powerless and stripped of all moral significance, it appears that Spitzer is still perfectly capable of summoning opinions, invective, and that edgy, unpleasant stare.
If you were eating dinner with the man, that expression would make you fear he was about to take the food off your plate. Which is probably what his co-host, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Kathleen Parker, is thinking right about now.
But the truth is that Spitzer isn’t the only political zombie shuffling across the television landscape.
Fox News is haunted by Karl Roves and Mike Huckabees and Sarah Palins, figures whose scandals, legal entanglements, and political setbacks have left them in kind of mass-culture limbo.
Obviously, some of these figures hope to prove that a kind of revolving door exists. Their banishment to the TV aether is seen as a way of staying relevant and proving their down-home, guy-or-gal-next-door normalness.
But I’m skeptical. When now-convicted former Republican whip Tom DeLay went dancing with the stars he unwittingly crossed over for good into the land of the political undead.
And it’s hardly surprising, in hindsight, that John Edwards’ sex-scandal involved dalliances with a woman who was filming him for a series of “webisodes.” One wonders whether he was flirting with his mistress or with the camera.
In any event, it was, in political terms, a fatal attraction.
But with his gee-gosh good looks and his TV-friendly grin, it can only be a matter of time before Edwards gets a shot at his own daytime TV show.
F. Scott Fitzgerald said that there were no second acts in American lives.
Watching Palin’s self-hagiography on the TLC channel, or Spitzer’s irony-free moralizing on CNN, you can’t help but wish it were so.