Friday, June 10, 2011

Anthony Weiner Is a Lying Ass — So?

When I heard earlier this week that Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) had, in fact, lied about tweeting a picture of his underwear, and admitted to having online sexual discussions (and exchange of explicit photos), I was angry. When this matter first erupted over Memorial Day weekend, I defended Rep. Weiner both because I like him and because of the history of those from whom the charges originated. So, when the truth came out, I felt betrayed.

But as I thought more and more about Rep. Weiner and his “transgressions” I realized that this “scandal” really shouldn’t be treated as such. Yes, Rep. Weiner should have come clean when the news first broke. Some kind of an “I’m embarrassed by my behavior” statement, issued, promptly, would most likely have prevented the whole scandal from growing and dominating the news cycle. But, when we look at Rep. Weiner’s transgressions, and compare those to the greater realm of political scandals, this one just isn’t meaningful and, in my opinion, probably shouldn’t be treated as a scandal at all. I’ll elaborate on my thinking in a moment, but I do want to add this one caveat: If it turns out that any of the women with whom Rep. Weiner was exchanging pictures and sexual texts were underage, and if he knew (or should have known, through the exercise of reasonable diligence) that they were underage, then this does become a real scandal.

So why don’t I think Rep. Weiner’s transgressions are worth the attention that has been given to them? First, let’s remember this key point (subject to the caveat above): There has been no allegation that Rep. Weiner broke any laws. He didn’t pay a prostitute (like Sen. Vitter or Gov. Spitzer), he didn’t illegally proposition a law enforcement officer for sex (like Sen. Craig), he didn’t use campaign funds to pay off a staffer with whom he’d had an illicit affair (Sen. Ensign), he didn’t molest underage Congressional pages (Rep. Foley), he didn’t sexually harass those who worked for him (Justice Thomas), he didn’t grope staffers (Rep. Massa), and he didn’t lie under oath about sexual relations(President Clinton). Nor was Rep. Weiner’s conduct even physical (President Clinton, Gov. Sanford, Sen. Edwards, Gov. Schwarzenneger, Rep. Souder). He didn’t father illegitimate children (Gov. Schwarzenneger, Sen. Edwards, Rep. Burton), divorce his wife while she was ill or engage in an illicit affair at the same time that he was trying to impeach a sitting president for lying about an illicit affair (Rep. Gingrich), or lie about who he was as he sought illicit sexual relationships on Craigslist (Rep. Lee). Nope. All that Rep. Weiner did was engage in online or telephonic sexual conversations (sexting, phone sex, emails, or whatever). Does his wife have a right to be angry? Of course. Do his constituents have the right to decide that they don’t approve of his conduct and vote him out of office? Again, of course. But what right do any of the rest of us have to be angry with Rep. Weiner? His conduct wasn’t criminal and it didn’t impact us.

And Rep. Weiner was never a “family values” politician that sought to impose his view of morality upon the rest of us. (And it was refreshing to see him not drag his wife onto the podium as he gave his apology; it wasn’t her fault, so there was no reason for her to stand under the withering lights and questions of the press.)

Apparently, the House Ethics committee intends to look into the matter. If Rep. Weiner used the Blackberry paid for by the US government or conducted any of this activity in his Congressional office, then he may have violated House rules. But I seem to recall hearing about other members of Congress making campaign solicitation calls from their offices (which apparently, they are not allowed to do) and I suspect that if we looked into the phone records of members of Congress, we’d find that plenty of them have made personal telephone calls or even calls to solicit funds. If we were to look at the computer browser history of every computer of every member of Congress, I suspect that we’d find at least one or two pornographic images or websites.

The Federal Elections Commission is presently investigating  Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Florida) and the auto dealerships he used to own for campaign finance violations. Yet, I haven’t heard the media or other members of Congress demanding his resignation. Think about that for a moment. We have one Congressman who emailed naked pictures of himself. We have another who may have used illegally obtained funds to get elected. Which is the worse violation? Yet which one has dominated media coverage? And which one has given rise to colleagues calling for a resignation? I’d argue that if we are more concerned with legal conduct that … ooh … involves sex than we are illegal conduct that goes to the functioning of our democratic system, then we have a real problem and mixed up priorities.

Moreover, while I’ve heard Republicans like Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) call for Rep. Weiner to resign, I haven’t heard similar calls for Sen. Vitter to resign, even though he admitted to using prostitutes (which, you’ll note, is illegal). In fact, at a Republican Congressional gathering after Vitter’s admission, he was treated to a standing ovation.

Ah, but Rep. Weiner lied, you say. And so he did. I’m sure that he’s the first member of Congress who has ever lied, right? I’m sure that he’s the first married man to lie about something that would get his wife angry. I’m sure that he’s the first person who lied about something that was, while perfectly legal, nevertheless embarrassing. Tell, me this: Which is more harmful to Congress, a lie about personal (though apparently perfectly legal) conduct like that which Rep. Weiner engaged in or a lie about facts during a debate about policy? For example, compare the lie told by Rep. Weiner to this whopper told by Rep. Dan Burton (R-Indiana). And what about every Republican member of Congress that repeated Sarah Palin’s “death panels” lie?

Rep. Weiner did stupid things in his personal life. But the more that we demand purity in the personal lives of our politicians, the harder and harder it is going to be to get anyone to be willing to step up and seek office. The politics of personal destruction are not good for our system of government. By all means, if someone breaks the law they should be held accountable. And personal actions can (and perhaps should) have personal consequences and may even be reasons for voters to choose another candidate. But when someone makes a mistake in their personal life, and that mistake is not illegal, is it really the sort of scandal that we should be paying attention to? And when that mistake doesn’t even involve physical contact but just emails and texts and photos, have we gone too far?

Just out of curiosity, how many extramarital affairs and/or divorces is a politician allowed before becoming “damaged goods”? I mean, just between Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani we have 4 divorces and who knows how many extra-marital affairs.

Rep. Weiner did a stupid thing. And he lied about it. That was stupid too. But how many of us have never done something stupid or that we’re ashamed of? How many of us have never done something that we would be embarrassed about should our loved ones (let alone the public) learn about? And how many of us would, if caught, at least try to lie our way out of the situation first? And yet does any of that make any of us bad people? Does that lessen our efforts to provide for our families or to make our communities better? Does that render our opinions meaningless? Does that make us ineligible to serve in an elected capacity?

Another thing that is worth thinking about is the degree of scrutiny applied to politicians who use social media. In Rep. Weiner’s case, a self-described conservative group was following Rep. Weiner’s online activity very closely (perhaps rising to the level of cyber-stalking), I suppose looking for a scandal. Given that social media is largely public, I guess that sort of scrutiny may just be the price of admission. But query how comfortable we would be if those same conservatives were not just following Rep. Weiner online but in person, too. How would we feel if groups that opposed a particular politician began making public every time that the politician went to a bar, every restaurant the politician ate in, every time the politician was seen in the company (however innocent it may in fact have been) of someone of the opposite sex who wasn’t that politician’s spouse. So long as the conduct is not illegal, is that really any of our concern? And why, then, are we uncomfortable with that sort of stalking but are, apparently, fine, if the stalking is merely virtual?

Or ask the question this way: Are Rep. Weiner’s views on taxation somehow “tainted” because he sent sexual text messages? Was his effort to secure healthcare for the 9/11 responders somehow less important or meaningful because he emailed pictures of his penis? Are his political views somehow lessened or rendered incorrect because he is apparently an egotistical jerk? I don’t think so.

Some scandals merit our attention, some our outrage. To me, it is much more scandalous to watch members of Congress lie to constituents about policy and empirical facts upon which political decisions are made than to know that a politician talked about sex with women. It is much more scandalous to realize that so many politicians are bought and paid for by enormous multi-national corporations and banks than it is to know that a politician sent a naked picture of himself. And it is certainly more scandalous to know that some politicians have broken actual laws than it is to know that a politician lied about mistakes made in his personal life.

Let’s stop worrying about silly things like whether Rep. Weiner tweeted a photo of his underwear and pay more attention to whether poor children are getting adequate food and housing, whether Americans can afford health care, whether there is anything that we can do to prevent global climate change, or any of the myriad host of other critical issues that are facing our country. Sorry, but Rep. Weiner’s weiner just doesn’t make that list; he may be a lying ass, but so what?


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At Friday, June 10, 2011 10:09:00 PM , Blogger erk said...

So very true, and such a complete catalog too. I wish I had something to add, other than - great job on this post.

At Friday, June 10, 2011 11:42:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

We need to stop making excuses for arrogant,lying (and apparently not very bright) politicians regardless of their political affiliation. The rules should not only apply to our public servants, but they should be held to a higher standard. Until we do that we will continue to have boat anchors running our government. I don't always agree with the posts on this blog (becuase I am more moderate than you are) but I think you are a smart, prolific guy, so I grudgingly respect your left wing, bleeding heart perspective... In this case I think you are giving him a pass because you like his politics. I personally don't care what Rep Weiner does. The fact that he did what he did indicates he has a mental problem, is arrogant and not very bright. The fact that he lied about it so openly and blatantly indicates he has a ethics problem. If he is the kind of person that his constituents want representing them, that is their option. If he is the kind of person you as a democrat (I am assuming here :) ) want driving policy and influencing voters, that is your choice. The problem is the democrats need moderates, like me, to vote for them and theirs. As long as he stays in office the left has a problem. The fact that he knows this and does not step down indicates that he is arrogant and selfish.

At Sunday, June 12, 2011 12:19:00 AM , Blogger Charles said...

Anonymous, can you explain why the left has a problem as long as Weiner stays in office, and the right doesn't have the same problem as long as someone like Vitter does?

At Monday, June 13, 2011 10:52:00 AM , Blogger MSWallack said...

I don't feel that I'm giving him a pass because I like his politics. I think that I'm giving him a pass because legal conduct doesn't bother me as much as illegal conduct. We have far bigger problems to worry about than whether a Congressman likes to email nude photos of himself. If we are going to hold all elected officials to your higher standard, then Rep. Weiner should be included. But unless that standard first applies to every Congressman (or -woman) to have an extramarital affair (which Rep. Weiner did not) or who actually breaks the law, then I have a real problem putting pressure on Rep. Weiner to resign.

Moreover, at the end of the day (or in the 2012 Democratic primary), his consitutents can decide if he is arrogant and selfish and, if so, and that is something that they don't like, they can vote him out of office. If the standard becomes "arrogant and selfish" I don't think that there are many politicians on Capitol Hill who would not fall below measure.

At Monday, June 13, 2011 10:54:00 AM , Blogger MSWallack said...


I forgot to mention one thing: Thanks for reading and commenting. I don't write just for people who do agree with me and I look forward (usually...) to the opportunity to engage in some kind of dialogue with those who disagree with my analysis and thoughts.

One question, however: Why post your comments anonymously?

At Tuesday, July 26, 2011 1:48:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Charles: I think the right DOES have a problem with Vitter in office, especially if they try to use him as a spokes model. All elected officials that act in a manner that is not befitting of a honorable public servant is betraying the public that elected them. IMHO.

MS: It has been awhile and Weiner eventually did the right thing (thanks to enormous peer pressure). So I think that makes me right and you wrong...:P. I guess what it boils down to for me is that I am fed up with public servants that forget that their job is to serve the public and do so with honor and dignity. I like to think we still deserve it (regardless of party affiliation, race, religion or sexual orientation). While likely true, I find your statement about politicians falling below measure depressing. Don't you agree that politicians should be on their best behavior?

When you ran for office in Hamilton County weren't you planning on trying to do the right thing based on the will of your constituents? I like to think you would.

Would you have ever tweeted inappropriate photos to strangers? I like to think you wouldn't.

The standard should be "be a good public servant and serve with dignity" not "Well, it wasn't exactly illegal - he's just a lying pervert". and please, do not prance a list of bad republicans to illustrate some point (I am looking at you Charles...). I think they are losers too...and if they are "far right" republicans they are hypocrite losers.

As far as reading and commenting, you are welcome. I enjoy reading your posts, while I do not always agree, I admire your verbosity, thoroughness and wit (even if it is sometime a bit harsh). I remain anonymous mainly to vex you.

At Tuesday, July 26, 2011 6:05:00 PM , Blogger MSWallack said...

I agree that we should expect our public servants to be good people who serve with integrity. Personally, it drives me crazy when politicians lie or repeat previously (and easily) debunked "facts". To me, that calls their integrity into question. I guess the issue becomes what sorts of behaviors run afoul of the expected norm. Clearly, breaking the law would cross that line. Is having an affair enough of a "bad act" to disqualify an otherwise capable, competent person from being a public servant (or necessitating a resignation)? What about divorce? Reading pornography? How about non-sexual matters like accepting money from lobbyists? Is the answer different if the lobbyist or the lobbyist's client or issue has no nexus with the politicians district and constituents? What about refusing to debate a political opponent? Or what should we say about a politician that defaults on his/her mortgage? Which, of course, leads back to the problem of politicians who had cleaning staff that they paid in cash and from whom they did not withhold taxes. What about a politician who does break the law but for a political reason (such as Rep. Gutierrez, who was apparently arrested for protesting outside the White House today). Should those types of conduct be disqualifying? I'm not trying to pick a fight; these are questions that I ask myself.

I guess at the end of the day, I'd like my politicians to be great people, too. But I'd rather have a politician that supports policies that I like and does a good job for his/her constituents but who has human failings than a politician who is without fault but is less competent. But by "human failings" I don't mean those failings that cross the line into illegal. And that politician's conduct will have to be put before the voters in the next election.

So to answer your question, of course I intended to "do the right thing" if elected to the Hamilton County Council (though I knew that was never going to happen). But I'd also like to think that if I strayed from the straight and narrow path that voters would recognize and understand that I, like them, am only human.

So long as we're so worried about the private lives of our politicians, then I worry that the best and brightest and most competent won't seek public office for fear that their own human failings will become tomorrow's headlines. I worry that a person who might otherwise make a fabulous public servant had an affair a year or three ago or smoke pot in college or is a recovering alcoholic or had financial problems in years past, won't seek public office or accept a call to public service out of concern that those matters would come to public light. There is obviously some kind of delicate balance to be drawn here, and I'm not sure that I know where the line is or should be.

Finally, I'm not sure why, just because Weiner did resign, you are "right". It may have been the most expedient political move for him to resign (thus taking heat off fellow Democrats), but that doesn't necessarily mean that he should have resigned. I liked the suggestion by some that he resign and then immediately announce his intention to run in the special election to be returned to his seat, thus taking heat of other Democrats and giving the final say to his constituents. As to the right's view of Sen. Vitter, how many Republicans have called for Sen. Vitter to resign? You may be correct that the reaction is not to use him as a spokesperson, but if there was a hew and cry demanding that Weiner resign, then shouldn't Vitter be subject to the same?

Finally, once again, thanks for commenting. If you're going to keep trying to vex me by posting anonymously, how 'bout at least signing your posts with some kind of nickname so that I can at least separate your anonymous comments from some of the other anonymous comments that I get (though it's not like I get that many comments...).

At Thursday, August 04, 2011 11:05:00 PM , Blogger ModerateMind said...

It would be great if there were a litmus test for politician’s transgressions. I ultimately think there is level of integrity that should be maintained. For example, if Weiner had come out at the outset of this “event” and owned up to it, instead of holding interviews and outright lying, I might feel less strongly about it.

As far as Vitter goes… I already said I have feel the same way about him.

See... we can get along.


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