On Ensigns, Vitters, and Weiners

…and Craigs, Foleys, Clintons, Harts, Spitzers, Lees, and long walks on the Appalachian Trail. I have endeavored over these last two years, to steer well clear of the tawdry “affairs” of state, but the world has finally caught up with the Rational Middle. I am selling out friends, and am told by reliable sources that sex is just the ticket for generating web volume. I am so excited, at the prospect of in depth reporting on Anthony’s Weiner, that I might change the “donation” key (upper left corner of the blog) to a “subscription” key. After all, why discuss the silly little working class issues like jobs, education, healthcare, and security? Why write at length about boring (and math-intensive…ugh) economics and fiscal calamities, when we can have a good, vigorous discourse on sex?

Why indeed; a good sex scandal is one of those rare instances where we the people can identify with politicians. No really, I am quite serious. Raise your hand if you attend a church that has not heard the whispers about “that” couple’s indiscretions in the last year. Speak up if your office is a hanky/panky free zone. And opportunities, oh the opportunities that a fling can offer those “in the know”. The right information, at the right time, could give you the inside track to that promotion, or allow you to finally get control of the children’s ministry away from that obviously deficient person who has been in charge. The right information, at the right time, could help you knock out a rival for President, or help you unseat the other party for control of the House, or maybe even just give a discredited con-artist (I am writing of you Mr. Brietbart) the glimmer and sheen of redemption and credibility.

The art of the political scandal is as old as politics. The only thing that has changed in the whole sordid history of sordid histories, is the staggering increase in the money that can be made from a grown man’s (typically, anyway) inability to use his “primary” brain to make decisions. The tactics of scandal have changed very little, although Republicans have become remarkably adept at hiding behind Jesus when confronted (they might, of course, have learned from a Kennedy). So what is different about this latest refrain from the tired old song; disrespectful, boorish, and misogynistic choices, followed by a bad show of denial, followed by tearful apology and resolute statement of will?

Nothing. Nothing is different. Anthony Weiner did not, apparently, “engage” his targets, but his “arsenal” was most definitely “on deployment”. That Andrew Brietbart, who is still a manipulative huckster who lied and distorted his way into a career, exposed Rep. Weiner, has no bearing on these proceedings. That Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) cheated on his wife with prostitutes without resigning, has no bearing on these proceedings. That Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) cheated on his wife while only resigning in the face of ethical charges, has no bearing on these proceedings.

Anthony Weiner’s wife must decide on the future of their marriage. The people of Mr. Weiner’s district will, if he chooses to stay, have the opportunity to decide on the future of his political career (precisely as Sen. Vitter’s constituents did in the last election). The Democratic Party must decide on its posture towards the pugnacious and highly visible representative from Brooklyn. And, like all scandals, public opinion will be expressed.

For my money, Anthony Weiner has made himself a tactical and strategic liability to the Democratic Party, and should leave his post. Others with whom I share a common political philosophy feel aggressively different than I. There is a common theme on the social networks that Weiner is being “judged” by a different standard than Republicans in similar situations. Unfortunately for the principle arguments of my friends, the figure of Rep. Chris Lee looms large. The Republican from upstate New York sent one picture of himself (shirtless) into the ether; he resigned the day the expose was published. He did not, as Mr. Weiner did, engage in a history of solicitations built around tweets of his erect penis.

Anthony Weiner is a smart guy; he is a guy I have written about in the most positive terms in the past, but it was he who hung himself out to dry. Weiner sent those photos over a long period of time. Weiner used a network (Twitter) that all of us who use know is easily hacked. Weiner hung his many allies in the blogosphere and within social networks out to dry by lying when caught. He watched people attack Brietbart when he knew this was the one instance where the “Big Government” publisher was in the right.

The trap I see here, for liberals, is that many of us have adopted the idea that if someone is an aggressive “champion” of our cause, then we should ignore their critical failings. Do we not criticize conservatives for that very behavior? Fighting for Anthony Weiner will hurt liberal initiatives, and for what? By most objective standards, Weiner has been a fair legislator, but nothing spectacular. His principal accomplishment was his correct admonishment of Republicans on the issue of the 9/11 heroes bill. I have much more respect for “liberal champions” like Dennis Kucinich and Bernie Sanders; gentlemen who act like gentlemen, and carry themselves with the dignity that their office deserves.

The trap I see here, for Americans, is this notion of gotcha politics and victimization. We love to “trap” elected officials so that we can justify our suspicions that all politicians are corrupt. When someone we like, however, is found to be actually corrupt, we search and strive and struggle to find justifications for their actions. When we can’t justify, we victimize; it was the monsters (Limbaugh, Brietbart, NBC, Wolf Blitzer) who were to blame, our guy is just human, and they were picking on him.

This is the government of the people; it reflects the strengths and weaknesses of the people. The beauty of our system is that we can choose to keep our scoundrels. The curse of the system is that we are often stuck with the scoundrels of others.

The Rational Middle is listening…

6 thoughts on “On Ensigns, Vitters, and Weiners

  1. I liked Weiner as an aggressive voice for progressive values (although, to my knowledge, he hasn’t sponsored any successful legislation) He is now, however, a distraction to any Democratic issue currently under debate and the issues are critical to the state of our nation. For that reason he should step aside not because he put his wiener on Twitter but because he dominates the political discourse.

  2. Michael, as always, a cogent, insightful expression of your views! I also am admiring the comments of the others on this site. You seem to have very level headed and responsible, thoughtful people responding and that is a pleasure to read. Thanks for your website and the way you have set it up. I look forward to reading more!

  3. I find myself almost completely in agreement with your post. But I wish to address you point about ‘…Weiner is being “judged” by a different standard than Republicans…’.

    There is a simple reason that Republicans in general are judged differently than democrats regarding sex scandals. “Family values” is considered a primary plank in just about any Republican’s platform. There is a general notion that Republican politicians as well as their constituents are steeped in moral traditions of marriage and the family. For a Republican to be caught in a sex scandal is almost always an exposure of his glaring hypocrisy. This is rarely the case with Democrats, who tend to deliver a more nuanced message. Their hypocrisies are therefore more difficult to expose.

    Lying to protect national secrets is nearly always appropriate. But lying to cover up mistakes, bad behavior or poor judgment should be considered unacceptable for any government official. These people work for us!

  4. I agree that he is now a liability to the party and I think that he needs to go. But, unless he is found to have broken some law or other, the people that he represents are the ones who should determine whether he stays or goes.

    The reason we tend to hammer Republicans more than Democrats when they make mistakes like this is because Republicans have an annoying habit of setting themselves up as paragons of morality and virtuosity. It goes with the territory of social conservatism. So when they get caught with their hand in the cookie jar we are compelled to point out their hypocrisy. The hypocrisy is the salt in the wound.

    So it’s really not the same situation for both parties as Democrats don’t normally set themselves up with the kind of unrealistic expectations that Republicans do.

  5. Michael, First, I find Weiner a repugnant, arrogant “little prick” (okay. I had to get in at least one and I promise that will be the last. 🙂 ) But initially, although I thought it couldn’t happen to a more deserving person, I genuinely felt a bit sorry for him and had no opinion on whether or not he should resign.

    I then kinda morphed into the opinion that no, he shouldn’t resign because in essence, he had just been caught doing something that probably a lot of us may have done or might be susceptible to do. Essentially, he was just being a human. Even worse…just being a “man”. 🙂

    But then, I read some of the accounts from the women he interacted with. The more that came out, the more it became evident Weiner has a problem. Whether a personality problem, sex problem….whatever….but it became increasingly evident he had a problem of sorts.

    Couple that with a little deeper reflection on his blatant act of lying to the public, and in the manner he did it, I changed my mind and felt it would probably be best that he resign.

    Now, so much has come out that it is evident he exercised cataclysmic poor judgement in his actions, and in his act of lying. I agree he has become a liability for the Dem Party. And I think as a nation, once we become aware an individual exercises such poor, VERY poor judgment, we should expect him to step down.

    It’s not a question of who did what before, after or whenever. It’s a question of judgment. And Anthony Weiner exercised incredibly poor judgment and in my opinion, should not be trusted to weigh in on decisions critical to the well being of our nation.

    Another good piece. I appreciate your effort and in my opinion (maybe not a ringing endorsement for you? Eh??) pieces like most that come from the “Rational Middle” are what Political discourse in this nation should be.

    Thoughtful, “Rational” commentary invites a similar response.

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