Never has New York Rep. Anthony Weiner’s last name been more unfortunate.
On Monday, Weiner, a groom for about a year, tearfully stood before a camera and after more than a week of lies and denials, said yes, it was he who sent a photo of himself wearing gray boxer shorts to a 21-year-old college student on the West Coast he had never met but had buddied up to on the Interent. Weiner, a Democrat in his seventh term as the District 9 representative for New York state, had said at first he was a victim of a prank, but later amended that to his account having been hacked, intimating all along that he was the victim of a right-wing blogger who broke the story.
At no point did he deny the photo was of his private area, which only made his story less plausible.
But Monday’s admission, much to Weiner’s disappointment, didn’t end the story — for two reasons. The confession gave the green light to other women, including pornographic actresses, to go public with information about their Internet connection with Weiner, therefore opening the door the congressman was trying so hard to keep closed.
Secondly, Weiner assured he would remain the butt of the joke when he insisted that he would not resign from Congress. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader in the House, has called for an ethics investigation, and Weiner, so far left that he is a frequent critic of President Obama for being too moderate, is finding himself without many allies. It is hard to see how he can survive.
Weiner does have a few defenders who will pull out the tired argument that his sex life is nobody’s business, his encounters were with other adults, and they were not uninvited. But the moment an elected official stands before a microphone and lies about his private life, then that life is no longer private. That Weiner made a hobby of sending photos of himself in different states of undress to women across the country he has never met is information that the public should find valuable on Election Day. It speaks volumes not only about his character, but his judgment as well, and most folks still aspire to having public officials who rank high in both.
The only hacking that has been done has been by partisans, who never miss an opportunity to try to cash in politically. Republicans were gleeful that Weiner is a Democrat, but an elephant’s memory isn’t needed to recall GOP politicians who have engaged in similarly lewd behavior. The difference, and it is close to inconsequential, is that the Republicans, because their party champions family values, are often labeled as hypocrites, while Democrats get away with simply being dirty old men.
The lesson here is there isn’t one — at least when it comes to politics. Weiner’s behavior says much about him, but little about Democrats, just as Idaho Sen. Larry Craig’s trolling for men in the bathroom of the Minnesota-St. Paul airport said nothing about Republicans. What members of both parties should remember is trying to gain political leverage when politicians so publicly misbehave is an overreach, one that Americans quickly recognize and reject.
That is but one of the legacies of President Bill Clinton.