Saturday, June 18, 2011

Patterns of Behavior and Why Rep. Weiner Had to Go

For some who focus exclusively on the "sex scandal" aspect of Rep. Anthony Weiner's behavior, they see inconsistency between the Democratic Party's insistence that he resign and the political survival of other politicians who have engaged in dubious sexual behavior, some of which was illegal. And it is fair to argue that, when the behavior does not involve minors or non-consenting adults, scandalous behaviors are usually survivable.

One of the more absurd comparisons I've heard is to the behavior of past presidents, such as Jefferson, Roosevelt and Kennedy, whose antics weren't known to the public. That's not a distinction - before Weiner's antics were known to the public he, also, avoided any consequence. One of the least coherent comparisons is Michael Medved's factually challenged1 rant about how unjust the world is because Weiner was pressured to resign but Clinton was not.2 I've heard comparisons to Rep. David Vitter ("it's illegal to hire prostitutes but not to twitter suggestive photos to other adults", Sen. Larry Craig ("he was convicted of disorderly conduct, but was allowed to complete his term"), and others.

I've also heard a variety of theories as to why Weiner was singled out - theories that his public persona, his alleged abrasiveness with his colleagues, his status as an up-and-coming leader for the party, etc., made it somehow more critical that he be removed. I don't agree - he could have been marginalized within the party and, as a spokesperson, once the scandal becomes "old news" needs not be any less effective than Elliot Spitzer.

Here's the thing: When you have a politician who cheats on his wife with other women, you can generally expect that if you dig you will learn of other affairs. If the cheating is with men in restrooms, sure, you can expect that digging will probably reveal that's not a one-time behavior, either. If the politician likes to hire prostitutes, again, a thorough investigation will likely turn up a lot more prostitutes with whom he's consorted. None of which changes the essential nature of the story.

Do you believe that somebody who engages in narcissistic, casual exhibitionist behaviors "kept it in his pants", so to speak, before the invention of Twitter? Andrew Breitbart apparently has a small dossier of photos, including an x-rated photo "accidentally" shared with the world. Even had Weiner survived the initial scandal with his implausible denials of responsibility, his scandal is a gift that keeps on giving - with an increasing number of increasingly explicit photos, and an increasing number of women reporting his conduct. For the Republican Party, Weiner had become a gift that keeps on giving.

Am I wrong in my inferences? If I were, I somehow doubt that Weiner would have followed his mea culpa by announcing that he was checking into some form of "rehab", inpatient mental health treatment. I suspect that he could have held on at least as well as Larry Craig, and perhaps as well as Barney Frank. But instead, I think the party legitimately feared that continued investigation would reveal a history of similar conduct dating back to Weiner's youth, and that given how casual he was about his online contacts that it was only a matter of time before he was discovered to have send explicit pictures to a minor. (I understand he's already under investigation for pictures he sent to a 17-year-old, and his antics were known to a sufficient degree among right-wing muck hounds that they were actively trying to solicit pictures from him with fake online identities.)


1. Medved writes, "Clinton abused his authority with and used government resources in sex-capades with a White House intern" - if you don't care enough about the facts to know after this much time that Lewinsky was not an intern, or if you know and choose to lie, why should you be regarded as anything but a low-wattage intellect and a partisan hack.

2. Is he complaining that Weiner should have stayed because Clinton stayed, that if you excuse behavior of one sort you must forever excuse behavior that's arguably similar, that a President and a Member of Congress are equivalent players in our political system... Nah, he's just ranting about Democrats.


  1. I believe part of the issue was that not all of the women Weiner sent explicit tweets to were obviously interested in such tweets. There's a difference between "I had online sex with a woman not my wife" and "I was sending sexy comments/pictures to constituents in order to hit on them".

  2. Right. The sense I have is that this is a form of exhibitionism, not "hot chatting" or some similar invited or mutual exchange. Twitter allows him to avoid trolling parks in a trench coat, but....

    The woman who received the first tweet that was publicized wrote an editorial trying to set the record straight, prior to Weiner's confession.


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