[pro-player width=’400′ height=’380]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FQFENNjRJg0[/pro-player]
Rep. Anthony Weiner of New York said today he has engaged in “several inappropriate” electronic relationships with six women over three years, and that he publicly lied about a photo of himself sent over Twitter to a college student in Seattle over a week ago.
“I take full responsibility for my actions,” Weiner said. “The picture was of me, and I sent it.”
The announcement came as ABC News prepared to release an interview with Meagan Broussard, a 26-year-old single mother from Texas who provided dozens of photos, emails, Facebook messages and cell phone call logs that she says chronicle a sexually-charged electronic relationship with Weiner that rapidly-evolved for more than a month, starting on April 20, 2011.
It get's creepier from there. There are more pictures, chats, tweets, etc., out there. And to think I all but defended him. Hell, maybe I did defend him a little. But over the weekend, things started to get a little weird, when he couldn't or wouldn't confirm or deny that it was a picture of him, but merely said he had lots of pictures.
I have pretty much the same thing to say about Anthony Weiner now that I said about John Edwards.
Once your eyes are opened, you want to close them again. The closer you look, the worse it gets. You want to avert your eyes, as the NY Times article says people did with John and Elizabeth Edwards dined out at a Chapel Hill, NC, restaurant. You want to look away, because — as we also say in the south — “That just ain’t right.”
To have an affair is bad enough, as a betrayal of one’s spouse and family. To jeopardize any number of political futures, and play games with the hopes of so many more people by pushing forward with a campaign — knowing the bomb in your closet could go off at any moment (say, after the nomination, sometime around mid October) — is another. But planning a wedding with your mistress, once your wife dies of the inoperable cancer that (by the way) she’s still living with, to the point of talking locations and picking out a wedding band?
…Look, I know that politics is a magnet for people with varying degrees of narcissism. I know women (and men) sometimes throw themselves at political candidates and elected officials. (Unsurprisingly, it’s reported that women hurled themselves at Obama left and right during the campaign. Fortunately, he was smart enough to dodge them, otherwise it would certainly have been reported.) Political spouses come to expect some of that. But at the end of the day, however many times the opportunity to “get a little on the side” is flung in your face — with your commitment to your spouse and family on the line, not to mention the hopes and energy of countless supporters — you’re supposed to put your “big boy britches on” (or keep them on) and deal with it.
The thing is, there are thousands if not millions of Americans doing exactly what Weiner did, and getting away with it because nobody cares, and nobody will care unless they run for public office. I've often joked that if I ran for office, the first thing I do is publish my entire available browser history, and every chat that I might have taken part in before I got married. I was, after all, a single, urban gay man for several years before I met the hubby. I came to D.C. in the latter half of my 20s, and since I never dated in high school and rarely dated in college, I made up for lost time.
The truth is, I’d never run for office those very reasons. As I pointed out before, I’d never even be a political appointee, because I couldn’t pass the vetting process.
Waveflux asks (via CNN, whose poll on this question I can no longer find) asks “Would you pass the vetting process for a political appointment?”
Let me put it this way. Many years ago, in my single and childless days (as a parent, I now officially have no past), I made a joking reference to a past indiscretion of mine, saying to a friend of mine “I hope that doesn’t come up at my senate confirmation hearing.”
My friend immediately set me straight. “Honey,” he said “you are not going to have a senate confirmation hearing, okay? You will be the person they bring into the confirmation hearing to bring someone else down.
Suffice it to say, no, I would not make it past the vetting process. I wouldn’t even make it onto the short list. In fact, after one background check, I might suddenly “disappear.”
But I'm not a member of Congress. If I were to do the same thing Weiner has admitted doing, few people would care beyond my husband and immediate family. (Frankly, I don't know where Rep. Weiner found the time to do all of this, assuming that members of Congress are pretty busy. As a working parent, I barely find time to check my personal email, let alone send tweets and pictures all over the web.) If you're a public person, and especially if you're in politics, then far less of your life will be private. It doesn't matter whether that's fair or not. That's the way it is, and it doesn't matter how much we moan that it shouldn't matter, or which that we lived in a different world. The worms are aren't going back into that can now.
Having watched the press conference, I would have had some degree of respect for Weiner if he had come out on day one and said what he said today. I think many more people would have. But he didn't. He had to know that there were more images, chats, messages, etc. out there — because he sent them — and yet he lied about it. That he apparently thought the story would die or go away, I think is not so much an example of naiveté as desperation. He didn't' say as much at the conference, but I think it's safe to say that Weiner is struggling with a psychological issue that I can't necessarily name, but it has something to do with compulsion, sex, and the internet. For sure.
Now, there will be some incessant demands. One, there will be demands that he resign. I'm not sure one way or another that he should. On the one hand, I think he should do so in order to no longer be a liability or distraction to the work the Democratic party needs to be doing now.
On the other hand, I think he shouldn't, just to deny the right wing the satisfaction of another scalp on the wall. Besides, people have done worse and remained in Congress. After all, David Vitter is still sitting in the Senate after being associated with the D.C. Madam, and Vitter’s patronizing prostitutes to indulge in his alleged diaper fetish is several degrees more embarrassing than Weiner's unfortunate tweets. (Plus, as we now know the picture was a picture of him, Weiner has at least one other advantage over Vitter.) No money changed hands in Weiner's case — certainly nothing approaching John Ensign's $96,000 payout to his mistress (and her husband) or John Edward's hitting up major donors to keep his mistress and lovechild out of the limelight. And even if he were to resign, Eliot Spitzer's example shows that not only is rehabilitation possible
, but it can happen faster than one might think.
There will almost certainly be an ethical investigation. Since Weiner is a member of the House, it's almost certain that he'll get raked over the coals in a very public way. After all, look what happened to John Ensign. Resigning might also mean avoiding that. What I don't know is whether there will be a criminal investigation, or whether one is warranted.
Second, there will be incessant demands for Weiner to crawl on his belly to Andrew Brietbart and apologize. Unless there is a statement or an interview in which Wiener specifically accuses Brietbart of hacking in Twitter account, or specifically accuses any other right winger of hacking his account and sending the picture, I think Weiner should flatly refuse to make any such apology, on the grounds that none is owed. If all he said is that his account was hacked, without accusing anyone in particular of being the hacker, he's already apologized for that. If Weiner hasn't personally accused Brietbart or anyone else, then he owes no further apologies and shouldn't be cowed into giving any.
As far as I know, the guy never set himself up as or claimed to be a paragon of morality. And if he's smart (which is at least debatable, given what's passed, though some very smart people are incredibly dumb when it comes to sex) he won't have made a big deal out of Republicans involved in sex scandals. (Actually, compared to Ensign, this is pretty mild. It's probably more on par with Chris Lee, though it seems that a much bigger deal is being made of this.)
But Weiner's position as a progressive standard bearer in the House is pretty much over. Can he open his mouth again without this being brought up each and every time? Will he be able to stand up and speak out like this anymore?
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Probably not. And, unfortunately, we have few people left in Congress who can and will. First Grayson's gone, now this.
I'm sure Republicans are thrilled they've effectively shut this guy up. But when you're a member of Congress and you carry on like that online without handing your opposition the ammo they need to take you out, or leave you seriously wounded. As a rule, none of us should ever assume that what we do online is private. That goes double for elected officials.