Tag Archives: anthony weiner

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Calvin, Hobbes and Anthony Weiner

Why We Care About Mr. Mushroom Head

Media coverage and thus most over-the-water cooler and cocktail party chit-chat about Anthony Weiner obsessively focuses on what the scandal — or circus, or freak show, whatever it is — says about him. More interesting, yet utterly ignored, is what it says about us.

The historian Richard Hofstadter began his classic book “The American Political Tradition” by quoting the 19th century journalist-economist Horace White. The Constitution of the United States (and by extension the nation’s Ur political philosophy, White wrote, “is based upon the philosophy of Hobbes and the religion of Calvin. It assumes that the natural state of mankind is a state of war, and that the carnal mind is at enmity with God.”

Americans assume that people are basically bad. That, left to exercise their free will, people will usually succumb to their basest impulses. As the Puritan theologian Jonathan Edwards, an ardent Calvinist, wrote: “The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked. His wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else but to be cast into the fire.”

If people are scum, it follows that they must be controlled. Americans accept Lord Acton’s aphorism that power corrupts; thus we admire the wisdom of the founding fathers for crafting a system of government based on checks and balances.

A corollary of the assumption that people are inherently bad is that the ability to resist temptation is rare, and thus admirable. George Washington, we are told, stands as a paragon of virtue for retiring, Cincinnatus-like, resisting the siren call of his admirers to stay on as a sort of American king. The perfect American leader is like Washington — self-effacing, self-denying.

When Anthony Weiner, then a relatively obscure, verbally combative New York Congressman, was, um, exposed sending photographs of his genitals via Twitter in 2011, what happened next initially followed a familiar political redemption narrative. He resigned, apologized, and vanished for a while. A little while. Then he gave a pair of carefully crafted interviews that put his attractive wife, and by extension their marriage, front and center.

He apologized again. No more sexting, he promised.

Next he announced his candidacy for the mayoralty of America’s largest city. Though not necessarily a step down in his career, neither was it perceived as an attempt to leap forward.

So far so good. Weiner climbed quickly in the polls, and no wonder: though few people could identify with his proclivity for self-photography, it didn’t seem as serious as actual cheating — boning a young intern in the workplace, for example. New Yorkers are fond of feisty politicians, even more so nowadays when people feel betrayed by a system run by and for the 1%.

As a liberal Democrat, Weiner didn’t face accusations of hypocrisy (c.f., former Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, a “family values” right-wing Republican who bashed gays on the Senate floor while cruising for them in the St. Paul airport men’s room). Anyway, New York is the most liberal city in the country, hardly a bastion of Bible Belt self-righteousness. It didn’t hurt that his principal rival, New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, was a singularly unattractive candidate, physically as well as politically. Few New Yorkers have forgotten Quinn’s perfidy in using her City Council to overturn term limits — which had been passed by a wide margin on the ballot — so that her ally, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, could run for a third term.

But then a low-rent website, The Dirty (!) revealed that Weiner had continued his old shenanigans. Not only was he sending out more photographs of his junk to random women online, he was carrying on cheesy virtual relationships with them. As Rachel Maddow said on MSNBC, this was something new: lying in the apology. And things got worse from there. It wasn’t just one woman, maybe it was three or six or whatever, who could really count? These days, the man who would be mayor can’t even say that he has stopped.

With the media, Democratic Party establishment, and even his wife’s mentors, Bill and Hillary Clinton, aligned against him, Anthony Weiner is plunging in the polls. It’s hard to imagine how he could recover by next month’s primary.

When you talk to voters in New York, they’re more amused by than disgusted at what Weiner did. Taking photographs of your penis, after all, is silly. Getting sexually aroused, or expecting women to get sexually aroused, by sexting seems kind of juvenile. It’s a boring kink, like a foot fetish. It isn’t gross, but it’s incomprehensibly goofy. Most people react to this sort of thing with a shrug. Whatever, if it makes you happy. And if his wife’s okay with it, why should we care?

What people really hold against Anthony Weiner is his lack of control. Clearly this man has a compulsion. All he had to do to become mayor of New York City was to stop sexting for 18 months. Clearly he couldn’t help himself.

It’s not the sin. It’s not the sexual proclivities, the unusual desires. It’s his lack of stoicism. His inability to suppress his compulsion.

Like all cultural assumptions, we take this one — our admiration for those who know how to play the game and our contempt for those who can’t/don’t — for granted. But it isn’t universal. Former Italian prime minister and media baron Silvio Burlosconi may well be heading to jail for tax evasion, but Italian voters didn’t give a damn about his prodigious sexual appetites, which manifested themselves at his notorious “bunga bunga” orgies, which featured under-aged prostitutes.

It’s easy to see how the inability to resist one’s primal sexual urges might make one a poor candidate for a position that required top-security clearance, for example. But Mayor of New York? I don’t really know the answer.

If the trash gets picked up on time and the subways run faster and the streets get cleaned and the schools improve, would it matter if the city’s chief executive spends his spare time setting up just the perfect shot for his private parts? If poverty is reduced and development is managed intelligently and the city’s budget gets balanced, would there be much harm in emailing dirty photos of himself to Midwestern floozies?

Like I said, I don’t know the answer. But we should be thinking about these questions — about what our societal priorities ought to be — more than about what is going on in Anthony Weiner’s brain.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in 2014 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on RedditDigg thisShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

In Defense of Carlos Danger

Clearly Anthony Weiner has a compulsion. Even after he got caught sexting two years ago, he continued to do it. The question for us, and for New York voters, is: is having a compulsion in and of itself reason to disqualify someone from public office?

In this case, the societal taboo against sending naked photos of yourself to another consenting adult is obviously stupid.

Who cares? Clearly not his wife. So why should we? On the other hand, we are dealing with a case of someone who cannot control his sexual impulses. Well, is that a problem? American society values self-control. But this is a man who doesn’t have it. Should we care?

What if Anthony Weiner had a compulsion that society did not judge as harshly, say, an addiction to chocolate candy? People would probably just think of it as a lovable quirk. So there is a Puritan aspect to this. The fact that it is sex is what makes it of interest in the first place. But then you have to ask yourself: what the hell was he thinking? He knew that to become mayor he would have to play the game, and the game required him to stop doing what he had claimed to regret doing. This is not as if he had issued a defiant statement pledging to continue sexting.

That would have been a statement of bravery and integrity, and it also would have been suicidal.

I myself am strongly inclined to rebel against the media’s righteous indignation over all this. In an editorial today, the New York Times called for Weiner to step down bow out of the race due to his “sexual improprieties.” But there were no sexual improprieties. These are consenting adults. I also am loathe to punish anyone for their sexual expression, no matter how undignified.

Consider the other major mayoral candidate, Christine Quinn. As far as we know, she’s not guilty of any sexual peccadilloes, but she betrayed the public trust and insulted the voters of New York. Several years ago, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg wanted to run for a third term in violation of a fairly recent two-term term limits law that had been passed by the voters, Quinn rammed through and an end-run against the voters and democracy itself.

Quinn had her New York City Council overturn a law that had been put into place by the voters. It was disgusting, and she doesn’t deserve to hold public office after what she did. No matter where you stand on term limits, if the law was to be overturned, it should have been reversed by the voters themselves again.

Yet you don’t see the New York Times calling for Quinn to withdraw.

In the end, it comes down to that old Bill Clinton question from the 1990s: is it wrong to lie to the voters about something that never should have been their business in the first place?

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on RedditDigg thisShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Sexual Freedom: The Next Frontier

No One Should Be Judged Because of How They Have Sex

If slavery was America’s original sin, Puritanism was its original curse.

In recent years the United States has made significant strides towards greater equality and freedom. Racism, sexism and other forms of bigotry have been significantly curtailed by new laws and cultural education. But we still have work to do. Four centuries after people so uptight they couldn’t get along with the British invaded the New World, however, the United States remains one of the most sexually repressed Western countries.

It is not good for us.

“If expression of sexuality is thwarted, Christopher Ryan wrote in Psychology Today last year, “the human psyche tends to grow twisted into grotesque, enraged perversions of desire. Unfortunately, the distorted rage resulting from sexual repression rarely takes the form of rebellion against the people and institutions behind the repression.”

In other words, mean parents, churches and right-wing politicians.

“Instead,” Ryan observed, “the rage is generally directed at helpless victims who are sacrificed to the sick gods of guilt, shame, and ignorant pride.”

Like, for example, gays. Fourteen states still had sodomy laws on the books by the time the Supreme Court invalidated them in 2003.

And the occasional politician.

Former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner is the most recent in a long line of elected representatives to step down because of a “sex scandal.”

I use scare quotes here for a simple reason: Sexual expression should never result in a scandal.

It’s been more than a week since Weiner resigned after getting caught sexting naughty pictures of himself to women via Twitter. Weiner was a liberal, so ideology wasn’t at issue.

Most of the Democrats I talked to had the same weird take on Weiner. They weren’t offended. Not personally. They themselves didn’t think he had done anything immoral, or illegal, or that he had betrayed his constituents. They didn’t care.

They questioned Rep. Weiner’s judgment. Didn’t he know he might get caught, and what would happen if he did?

What Weiner did wasn’t bad, at least not bad enough to warrant resignation or impeachment. To most Democrats, including the House leadership, Weiner’s mistake was tactical—his failure to anticipate the outrage of other people that reflected lousy judgment—a personality flaw that required him to fall on his (much photographed) sword.

They didn’t care what he did. They didn’t like Weiner’s failure to be discreet.

It is time—well past time—that we Americans grew up.

No one, not even a politician, should be pressured to resign because of sex.

Even when they’re a hypocrite.

Perhaps like you, I snorted when Larry Craig, the anti-gay Idaho senator was arrested (and plead guilty to) cruising a men’s room with his “wide stance.” Here was a right-wing Republican who opposed gay marriage, allowing gays to get domestic-partner benefits, or even banning employment discrimination against gays, cruising for hunky tail at the Minneapolis airport.

“Let me be clear: I am not gay. I never have been gay,” he told a press conference.

Fun stuff. And hardly the first time a gaybasher got caught with his, um, you know, in a, well, um, nevermind.

Miraculously, Craig got to finish his term. But his political career is over.

Looking back on Senator Craig now, however, I think we progressives missed a teachable moment.

Rather than ridicule the man, we ought to have defended him as a victim of an unjust law. In the 21st century, why should anyone go to jail for soliciting consensual sex?

Also, we should have exploited Craig’s predicament as an opportunity to create a dialogue with him, to ask that, given his own status as a gay or bisexual (he was married) American, he reconsider his antigay politics.

One day, I hope, we will live in a nation where another person’s sexual expression is no one’s business but theirs and their sexual partners. We will be allowed to do whatever we want with whomever we want, as long as what we do is with a consenting adult.

Even if we take pictures and post them online.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on RedditDigg thisShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Being, Nothingness and Anthony Weiner

Should Anthony Weiner Resign?

Should Anthony Weiner resign?

Aside from the obvious pleasure that we derive from wallowing in salacious revelations about the rich and powerful, this week’s Weiner sexting controversy provides a window into American morals. Namely: what is wrong, what is right, and what if anything should be done about it?

Let’s look at the sin first.

Weiner sent smutty photos, some with smutty captions, to some of his followers on Twitter. As far as we know he never met any of these women in person, much less had sex with them.

After the Congressman and once-possible-future mayor of the City of New York realized that he had mistakenly sent one of his crotch shots to the wrong addressee, he got too clever by half. Trying to get ahead of the story before it broke organically, he called a press conference and claimed that Evil Right Wingers had hacked his Twitter account. This lame story quickly fell apart, and here we are, with The New York Times editorial board officially decrying Weiner’s “profoundly squalid and offensive pattern of conduct,” language one would have liked to have seen used to describe, for example, torture. Or the bailouts for millionaire bank executives. Or lying us into war in Afghanistan. And Iraq. And Libya.

No victim, no sin. Who’s Weiner’s victim?

Not, apparently, the women to whom he tweeted his…tweet. As far as we know, they were willing adult participants.

Weiner’s wife Huma Abedin is the sole candidate for Victim.

You have the right to feel outraged on her behalf. Me, I’m wary. No one but a husband and wife (or two husbands or wives) knows what goes on between them.

For all we know, Huma might be evil. She may have done far worse. Maybe she doesn’t mind. Or thinks a guy is entitled to fantasies that don’t involve his wife. If she sticks around we’ll at least know that her hubby’s “profoundly squalid and offensive pattern of conduct” wasn’t worth divorce.

The way I see it, this is the Weiners’ business.

To ask whether Weiner should resign, then, goes to another question. Did he betray his constituents–those in Queens and, more broadly as a nationally-known Congressman, the American people?

No doubt, Weiner lied to we, the people. It’s hard to imagine now, but that used to be an impeachable offense. Dig up Richard Nixon and ask him.

Nowadays, however, the public seems to have abandoned the expectation that politicians tell the truth. President Obama, for example, included a clear call for a public option in his healthcare reform proposal during the 2008 presidential campaign. It’s still on his website. And yet: “I didn’t campaign on the public option,” he said in late 2009.

Weiner lied. But it wasn’t about policy or something important like war. Remember Libya? We were going to “move quickly to save [civilian] lives.” It was going to be “this limited action, limited both in time and scope.” That was March. Now we’re trying to kill Kadaffi.

And, to Weiner’s credit, he didn’t lie long. A week. When he ‘fessed up, he did it like a man: took questions from the press, accepted responsibility, volunteered dirty deeds we didn’t know about.

It’s certainly not “we DID find the WMDs,” à la Bush-Cheney. Who, remember, did not resign.

I would love to live in a country in which lying to the public was cause for resignation. It sure would make for a lot of vacancies in government.

But we don’t–and it seems weird to hold a sexter to a higher standard than a warmongering mass murderer.

Ultimately the public’s case against Weiner comes down to the one Edward G. Robinson snaps at the dastardly insurance salesman played by Fred MacMurray in “Double Indemnity”: “I picked you for the job, not because I think you’re so darn smart, but because I thought maybe you were a shade less dumb than the rest of the outfit. I guess I was all wet. You’re not smarter, Walter. You’re just a little taller.”

Weiner doesn’t even get to be tall.

The Times questioned Weiner’s “judgment and character, considering that he was once considered one of the savvier members of the House. Had it not occurred to him, in an era of unending sexual scandal, that repeatedly sending these kinds of photographs to strangers would eventually catch up with him? And that, if it did, his attempt to exploit his political celebrity for online sexual gratification would be considered reprehensible?”

Should Weiner resign? Only if not being sufficiently cold, cynical and calculating is just cause.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on RedditDigg thisShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone