Thursday, June 09, 2011

Weiner dogged

It’s been several months, if not years, since a political issue has outraged me as thoroughly as the scandal involving Rep. Anthony Weiner. As with most issues these days, no one is entirely right or wrong, and I have plenty of facepalming for all involved. But as you’ll see, I worry more about what this sort of exposé (no pun intended) means for the future of politics than for the immediate future of who has otherwise been a competent representative.

First things first...

• Weiner was dumb to do it. Conducting online affairs isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it’s dumb. Sending relatively tame, shirtless pictures of yourself and unidentifiable boxer-brief shots isn’t that horrible either, but it’s dumb. Denying it once confronted, only to have to the truth come out later, is dumb. And all that dumbness is multiplied by a factor of U.S. politician. So Weiner made a boner, so to speak.


• The sanctimony is worse. Why should Weiner resign over this? We can all name members of Congress who have undertaken far, far worse transgressions and not only still serve, but are upheld by their particular party as paragons of family values! I’ve always said that I don’t care about any politician’s personal life, regardless of how I view them politically. What I can’t stand is when they specifically campaign (and win) as a moral crusader or otherwise as against something for which they get busted later. It further pisses me off when their constituents forgive them once they’ve been exposed as a hypocrite. And even further when those people turn around and project the same Christ-like strawman image on a politician they hate, without merit, just so they can tear him down.

If you’re going to forgive the family-values men for divorcing their wives like failed draft picks, or for allegedly visiting prostitutes, or for sex-chatting with underage male pages, then you can’t turn around and condemn a man for emailing slightly naughty pictures. Especially when that man is some virtue crusader only in your mind. If Weiner had vowed to crack down on “sexting,” had criticized other politicians for their sexual transgressions or otherwise did anything against someone’s will, then you might have a case. Otherwise, you’ll seem like a partisan hypocrite looking to tamp down on anything that will remove a good leader when there isn’t a whole lot to compel that.

• How low are we going to set this bar? If Weiner does resign, it’ll be because he finds himself in a hostile climate where he can’t get anything done for his district. And that will be because private correspondence between consenting adults got leaked for political purposes. In other words, it’s probably the lamest thing for which a politician ever got popped; for all the fallout, he might as well have had an actual affair, and a rowdy one at that.

Why? Why are grown, successful officials so eager to equate some photos (with no nudity or illegality involved) to a truly damaging act? And why do we, the public, continue to buy into people like Andrew Breitbart, pretending that he is something other than a third-rate performance artist out to blacklist Democrats through fourth-rate shenanigans?

Which brings me to a broader trend that I worry about probably more than anything else. With the advent of constant social networking, we’re increasingly scrutinous of people, whether as potential friends, employees, employers or politicians. At the same time, we’re increasingly judgmental of people’s actions. And I worry that the potentially greatest president of a future age is going to be sunk by a Facebook picture someone took of them while drunk. Scandals like Weiner’s only reinforce my view that this is getting more ridiculous.

It blows my mind to think how different we’d be as a country if Facebook and Twitter had been around when Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were in college. To say nothing of all the other baby boomers and previous generations. And yet, we got by, because the only difference between the human nature of the past and the human nature of today is that we had less in our face back then. And while transgressions abounded among all political stripes, we nonetheless had a sense of perspective about it. We let the irrelevant stuff slide so that the major infractions carried appropriate weight. We forgave our leaders (sometimes too much, granted) for certain indiscretions if they were representing us to our satisfaction; after all, that’s why we put them there in the first place.

I don’t want my elected officials making bad decisions and stupid moves. But I also don’t want an electorate filled with people who (to paraphrase George Clooney) have spent their entire squeaky-clean lives running for office. And I certainly don’t want a Congress split between milquetoast Democrats afraid to offend Breitbart types and who resign at the slightest accusation, and Republicans who get away with (metaphorical) murder. (Or vice versa.)

The Weiner incident is a preview of what future-generation scandals could look like, if we continue to apply our sanctimony equally to all infractions. And it won’t be confined to the political sphere, either. Let’s take this opportunity to look into ourselves and learn to keep our raging hypocrisy in our pants.


venessalewis said...

Amen. I can't believe that they are seriously calling for Weiner to resign over THIS when Vitter, VITTER actually committed criminal acts....and used taxpayer money to cover it up! Seriously? Why hasn't he been prosecuted for this much LESS forced to resign. Big fucking deal they guy sent pics of his dick. Yeah, I have a problem with him not fessing up earlier on....stupid PR move. But, you are right on....the saving grace for Democrats is that we don't go around running on things that when then get busted on. Hypocrisy is the greater of the evils.

Debra said...

I don't belong in that category as others may. Not every person of a particular party can 100% be on a band wagon. No matter what side you are on, if you have enough respect for your spouse you would not do this sort of thing. If he was single, hell yeah. Do what you want as long as you don't compromise your office. I think this just speaks to the character of the person. I don't take it easy on one person versus the other. One person doing wrong is no worse than the next.

Jason said...

This is tough for me. I thought Vitter should resign as well as be prosecuted when his whole scandal dropped. A significant part of me thinks that Weiner should as well. He hasn't committed a crime, and I don't suggest that anything he did was the most atrocious of acts in the grand scheme of things. However, he is running around engaging in, at the very least, online sexual conduct with other women while his wife is pregnant.

I find this to be particularly reprehensible behavior. My problem is that our pop-culture, Kim Kardashian world loves this shit anyway, so why all the fuss by and large? If we glorify this crap all the time, why don't we glorify it in our politicians as well? Let's start calling this behavior out in our day-to-day and then move on to our political figures.

If his judgment is this bad, what other colossal bone-head moves is he going to make? He absolutely has to have mental illness of some sort to comport himself so freely and and feel he will not be caught.

I don't give a shit what the Republicans say. No seriously, whether about Weiner, values, the price of tea in Tokyo, I just don't give a shit anymore. They are insane. What I do care about is what I think of a man. Now he is not my representative directly, but as a general statement, I personally do want someone in office who demonstrates solid judgment as well as a basic respect for his wife and family. Weiner clearly lacks such.

In the end, I suppose if I magically was given the supreme decision on this matter I would leave it up to the man himself, and let the electorate decide what they thought of his decision in the next election. I definitely don't care for the “they are all shit -heads anyway, so why should this one resign” approach though. I'd like to see all of the shit-heads go from both sides of the aisle personally. I feel no need to start with one or the other in particular.

Ian McGibboney said...

V - I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Debra - I could just as easily cite Eliot Spitzer as David Vitter for an example of hypocrisy. So it’s not entirely partisan. I do think Republicans get hit more often because they frame themselves as pious and faithful. They’re the ones who typically shriek loudest at Democrat peccadilloes, claiming the high ground that they do, only to have it thrown back at them even harder (such as Clinton vs. Livingston, Gingrich and Hyde back in 1998). I don’t think it’s partisan of me to point that out.

Jason - I bring up the example you don’t care for not because I’m cynical, but because I think there should be some consistency. There’s no reason Weiner should bear the burden of resigning when others in Congress have done far worse, like actually cheat on their wives and engage in criminal behavior. I’d like the really bad ones to be gone too, but even then, I can’t lump Wiener in that group. He’s more foolish than vicious.

I don’t think his actions, though idiotic, necessarily speak to his leadership. Most likely, he was thinking with the wrong head when he sent those pictures. That might make his personal judgment questionable, but to suggest he’s mentally ill? That’s a stretch.

I think it’s possible to be good at your job and have shortcomings as a human being. That pretty much has to be the case for everyone. The question is, is the particular shortcoming relevant? In this case (and others like it), I don’t think so.

To use your celebrity analogy: Weiner is the latest public figure for us to tear down and make us feel better about ourselves. In the big picture, though, we should keep it in perspective.

NOLA Progressive said...

I rambled a bit in my comment earlier and as a result didn't really establish a thesis. My two year old is going through a period of waking up at 1 am every night and not going back to sleep. Oh yeah fun times.

I wasn't trying cast any aspersions on your analogy. It is actually a good analogy and further a good point. I was simply trying to state that if someone objected to the behavior of Vitter, Sanford, Clinton, or most other of the scandal- prone politicians and called for their resignation, I can reasonably see their doing the same for Weiner. If, like many folks I know, they are David Vitter boot camp graduates and are calling for Weiner's demise, I feel they hypocrites at best.

Ultimately Weiner's constituents are going to have to weigh his character flaws against his contributions to them and make a decision.

Debra said...

Ian- Just as I said above you have every right to bring up anyone you wish on either side. The point is that this should not happen at all. Like it or not, if I elect you to represent me then I expect you to do just that. It is not looking down on someone to make myself feel better. But to say that a republican is worse because they have morals is just crazy talk. So using that logic, it is ok for any democrat to do whatever they would like, sexual or otherwise, because they don't stand on morals? What does that say about a person? I choose to believe in lots of things that my "party" does not. I believe in gay marriage and rights. SHOCKER!! But I would hold my best gay friend accountable for something just as I would anyone else. There should not be a filter on certain situations. A person is going to do what they are going to do. Our choice in the matter is are we ok with this person representing us. In the weiner case (yes she said weiner) I don't really care as he is not representing me. I am also quite frankly tired of hearing about it in media everywhere on both sides.

Debra said...

"If Weiner had vowed to crack down on “sexting,” had criticized other politicians for their sexual transgressions or otherwise did anything against someone’s will, then you might have a case."

Does mocking count?

Ian McGibboney said...

Jason - It just clicked with me that you're the Jason of NOLA Progressive fame. Shucks. I thought I had two awesome readers! And yes, I understand your clarification now. Apologies for misunderstanding.

It should be up to voters to decide. One thing I didn't touch much on before is that with so many officials resigning over (questionable) scandals, we're essentially letting the media and the punditry affect our representation directly. That's not a power I want Breitbart or Drudge or anyone else to have.

Debra - When I say someone campaigns on morals, that isn't to suggest that those who don't, don't have any. I'm referring to politicians who specifically campaign on the idea that America is in a moral/religious crisis, and that they possess the personal values necessary to address said crisis. This is mainly, though not entirely, a Republican, religious-right meme. And it gets them far. The thing is, these are the people who both scream loudest when someone violates their values (never minding whether or not that person shares them), and yet so many of them violate their own morals, sometimes in the most ironic way.

As you say, Debra, Weiner is a bit glib. Which proves my point — he's not toeing the family-values line. He's just goofy. That's how we should judge him. Not by someone else's professed piety.

Jason said...

Ian, yep I'm both lol! Just had to setup a new gmail account due to some new phone issues, and depending on which I'm logged into the screen name comes up different.

I appreciate the name loyalty. Always nice to be known :-)