What was he thinking of? That was the first question that came to mind when the story of New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer's involvement with a prostitution ring was reported in the media.
It was also the first question that came to mind when star quarterback Michael Vick ruined his career and lost his freedom over his involvement in illegal dog fighting. It is a question that arises when other very fortunate people risk everything for some trivial satisfaction.
Many in the media refer to Spitzer as some moral hero who fell from grace. Spitzer was never a moral hero. He was an unscrupulous prosecutor who threw his power around to ruin people, even when he didn't have any case with which to convict them of anything.
Because he was using his overbearing power against businesses, the anti-business left idolized him, just as they idolized Ralph Nader before him as some sort of secular saint because he attacked General Motors.
What Spitzer did was not out of character. It was completely in character for someone with the hubris that comes with the ability to misuse his power to make or break innocent people.
After John Whitehead, former head of Goldman Sachs, wrote an op-ed column in The Wall Street Journal, criticizing Attorney General Spitzer's handling of a case involving Maurice Greenberg, Spitzer was quoted by Whitehead as saying: "I will be coming after you. You will pay the price. This is only the beginning, and you will pay dearly for what you have done."
When you start thinking of yourself as a little tin god, able to throw your weight around to bully people into silence, it is a sign of a sense of being exempt from the laws and social rules that apply to other people.
For someone with this kind of hubris to risk his whole political career for a fling with a prostitute is no more surprising than for Vick to throw away millions to indulge his taste for dog fighting or for Leona Helmsley to avoid paying taxes not because she couldn't easily afford to pay taxes and still have more money left than she could ever spend but because she felt above the rules that apply to "the little people."
What is almost as scary as having someone like Spitzer holding power is having so many pundits talking as if this is just a "personal" flaw in Spitzer that should not disqualify him for public office.
Spitzer himself spoke of his "personal" failing as if it had nothing to do with his being governor of New York.
In this age, when it is considered the height of sophistication to be "nonjudgmental," one of the corollaries is that "personal" failings have no relevance to the performance of official duties.
What that amounts to, ultimately, is that character doesn't matter. In reality, character matters enormously, more so than most things that can be seen, measured or documented.
Character is what we have to depend on when we entrust power over ourselves, our children and our society to government officials.
We cannot risk all that for the sake of the fashionable affectation of being more nonjudgmental than thou.
Currently, various facts are belatedly beginning to leak out that give us clues to the character of Barack Obama. But to report these facts is being characterized as a "personal" attack.
Obama's personal and financial association with a man under criminal indictment in Illinois is not just a "personal" matter. Nor is his 20 years of going to a church whose pastor has praised Louis Farrakhan and condemned the United States in both sweeping terms and with obscene language.
The Obama camp likens mentioning such things to criticizing him because of what members of his family might have said or done. But it was said, long ago, that you can pick your friends but not your relatives.Obama chose to be part of that church for 20 years. He was not born into it. His "personal" character matters, just as Spitzer's "personal" character matters and just as Hillary Clinton's character would matter if she had any.
Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.