Anthony Weiner’s campaign for mayor of New York City is drawing to a close, and for once it would seem that being morally abhorrent has proven an impediment to attaining high office. The infamous amateur photographer and prosaist of dubious Latin descent is running in fourth place. With voters set to go to the polls on Tuesday, he doesn’t seem likely to recover the frontrunner status he enjoyed at the outset of this latest ignominious endeavor.
Weiner might have done it, if he wasn’t almost pathologically slimy. Even at the beginning of this campaign, the people of NYC seemed willing to forgive him his past indiscretions with women on the Internet — women who, I hardly need to remind you (but do not mind doing so), were not his wife Huma Abedin, the mother of his child. This forbearance from the famously prickly people of New York was apparently predicated on his genuine repentance and reform following his shameful exit from Congress.
We all thought that Breitbart had thoroughly exposed this pencil-necked cartoon as a dishonorable heap of dog-vomit. I suppose that if I wanted to be technically correct (the best kind of correct), Weiner himself was responsible for most of the exposure. But surely I was not the only one surprised by how quickly he returned to public life. Taken together with Eliot Spitzer’s return to politics, it seemed that the commentators in those early days of the campaign were right: the Internet has made us quick to anger, but similarly quick to forget. Weiner’s disgrace may as well have happened 20 years ago.
Of course, with men like the former Congressman, there exists a remarkable capacity for delusional self-regard. Such is this regard that the obvious lessons of their disgrace — e.g., don’t go trolling for strange when your wanking material can be screenshot — completely fail to permeate. And so it came to pass that we learned Mr. Weiner continued his bad behavior after his public discommendation. Indeed, we learned that he could not even provide an accurate estimate of how many women he had corresponded with in the time between his fall and his return. All this was after somehow convincing his wife to stand up for his reputation and publicly affirm that he had changed.
Why do something so reckless? Why continue clandestinely spanking it after being so severely spanked? Was it a compulsion or could he simply not resist stroking his own ego? Are the rules just different for people like him?
The most shocking thing was how brazen he was about the entire affair. He must have been convinced that his hobby would remain safely buried. Really, if you can’t trust the anonymous strangers you sext with, who can you trust? Yet he presented himself as reformed, a devoted husband and father, and shrugged off the criticism in the face of evidence to the contrary.
Another charming element of his candidacy was the defensive verbal sparring with the citizens he claims to want to represent. These episodes, increasingly hostile and entirely foreseeable, are only further examples of his hubris and inability to truly take ownership of his faults.
Perhaps it is a failure even to recognize them as faults.
Which leads us to our next consideration: how much should a politician’s personal life factor into our decision to support him (or her – women can be screw-ups too)?
With the obvious caveat for individual deviations, it is fair to say that in a broad sense there are two schools of thought on the subject: one conservative and one libertarian. Let us leave out the liberals, since with the examples of Ted Kennedy’s Chappaquiddick and Bill Clinton’s Oval Office shenanigans it is readily apparent how much they are willing to tolerate.
The conservatives among our readers will undoubtedly say that a politician’s personal life matters a great deal, citing issues of trustworthiness and character. Libertarians would presumably say that so long as everything is nice and consensual, it’s not one damn bit of our business. Pragmatic electoral concerns may lead one or the other camp to hold their nose and vote for someone they detest in exchange for avoiding the election of someone who more explicitly opposed to their ideals.
Which group has the right of it?
Well, in Obama-esque fashion I have set up a formula of two extremes, which I shall subsequently reject in favor of a comparatively more rational third way.
My own estimation lines up with Pete Wehner’s from before the 2012 election. This was just as Newt Gingrich was throwing his hat into the ring. Mr. Gingrich is of course well-known for his blazing intellect, but questionable self-governance.
Many of the rest of us are on a continuum when it comes to deciding how much infidelity should matter in the selection of a president. Facts and circumstances are crucial. Was the infidelity an isolated instance or a chronic pattern? Were the transgressions long ago or recent? What levels of deception and cover-up were involved? What was the position of authority the person held when the infidelity occurred? Was there an alarming degree of recklessness on display? What evidence is there that this person has changed his ways? Has this person shown other worrisome signs when it comes to character and trustworthiness?
You will note how many of those questions mar Anthony Weiner’s candidacy.
These considerations all factor into the calculus that voters perform with an end goal of simply determining whether they like the guy or not. While messy personal lives should not be an immediate disqualification from positions of leadership, it is only prudent to add them to the equation.
Character does count. Redemption does occur.
Ultimately, each candidate for office will be measured. In the case of Anthony Weiner, it would seem that New Yorkers have taken this measure and found him wanting.
At least, until his next comeback.