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Spitzer Jumps Into AIG Bonus Furor

Everyone seems to have a vitriolic view of the bonus-dispensing American International Group, and now so does that caustic echo of yesteryear, Eliot Spitzer.

The dethroned New York governor, a full year into the role of mere citizen, has thrust himself into the strident debate over the spending habits of the government dependent A.I.G. He

wrote about it in his column on Tuesday for the online magazine Slate, then augmented that with an unusual 18-minute appearance on Wednesday morning on Brian Lehrer’s radio program.

His central point was that the millions of dollars in bonuses ought to be overshadowed by what he sees as the more flagrant offense by A.I.G., shepherding billions in bailout money to its trading partners. Despite his Democratic credentials, Mr. Spitzer in his latest views adds to criticism he has already directed at the economic policy of the Obama administration.

It might seem sensible that the man once depicted as the sheriff of Wall Street when he was the state’s hard-boiled attorney general, whose investigation of A.I.G.’s deceptive practices led to a $1.6 billion settlement, would feel motivated to say his piece. Given the untidy manner in which Mr. Spitzer left office — a prostitution scandal — is his the voice people want to hear on ethical behavior?

Indeed, Mr. Lehrer, in his radio interview, mentioned that some listeners had complained angrily on the station’s Web site about having Mr. Spitzer as a guest, wondering why the station could not find someone who did not also happen to be a humiliated New York governor.

Reached by telephone, Mr. Spitzer declined to talk about his views or motivations.

In the Lehrer interview, Mr. Spitzer said that he was not mounting some sort of comeback, saying, “I’ve apologized and in my view have acted in the past year the way I should have, which is to say I will remain quiet.” Other than, that is, to offer “a few words” from time to time on public policy issues.

He did see fit to assert that when he was attorney general he was “pursuing issues that nobody else wanted to pursue.” He added: “Now it is the flavor of the month. Everyone’s jumping up and down serving subpoenas, beating their chests trying to be tougher than the next person.”

Reaction around the blogosphere to Mr. Spitzer’s emergence ran the customary gamut, from the blasphemous to the congratulatory to the incredulous.

As one person wrote on Politico.com: “Now Spitzer has ‘chimed in?! OMG! May Day! May Day! SOS!”

Besides working in the family real estate business, Mr. Spitzer began a biweekly column for Slate last December, entitled the Best Policy: Making Government Work Better.

Columns have expressed skepticism of government assistance policies. His first column, on Dec. 3, assailed the wisdom of federal bailouts to financial institutions. A column on the auto industry suggested telling the three American auto companies that there was bailout money for — guess what — only two of them, and the two that presented the best plan would get it.

In another column, he said that the Obama stimulus package ought to be funneled to truly transformative ideas rather than simply being used to fix bridges and buildings. He has also railed against privatizing Social Security and criticized the way students pay for college.