We’ve reached the backlash-to-the-backlash stage with Anthony Weiner.
Andrew Sullivan, Dan Savage and Amanda Hess have all been noting that sexting with strangers is increasingly common behaviour with the rise of smartphones, and sooner or later we’ll have to make peace with electing leaders whose sexts we have read.
In the abstract, they’re right. Let’s be frank. In the age of Grindr, I’m far from the only gay man under 35 with a personal stake in changing this norm.
But while we will eventually need a standard bearer for the “sexters can be leaders, too” message, Weiner can’t be it. That’s because the specific circumstances of his sexting provide further evidence that he lacks the temperament to be a good mayor.
Let’s look back at Exhibit A on Why Anthony Weiner Would Be A Terrible Mayor: June’s New York Times piece on his record in Congress.
The Cliffs Notes version: Weiner had no record of legislative accomplishment to speak of, save for one pet bill pushed by a major donor. His main goal seemed to be to get on television as much as possible and raise his profile for a run for mayor.
He positioned himself as a progressive champion but was not useful in getting the left’s goals into law. He threatened to interfere with passage of Obamacare but relented when Nancy Pelosi put him in a position to take more credit for it. He went on a self-aggrandizing rant against Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) at the same time other New York Democrats were working constructively with King to secure passage of a bill to compensate 9/11 first responders. He refused to participate in a pro-immigration event because its organisers wouldn’t make it into a platform for showcasing Anthony Weiner.
His me-first behaviour so alienated other Democrats that, when his first sexting scandal broke in 2011, few colleagues were interested in publicly defending him. It was clear that Pelosi was glad to have him gone. And his lack of a legislative record has given his mayoral opponents a strong argument against him.
The key lesson here is not that Weiner is a relentless self-promoter. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is a relentless self-promoter and also a highly effective senator.
What makes Weiner special is that he compulsively seeks attention and adulation even when that interferes with his long-run self-promotion. He couldn’t pass up opportunities to grandstand even when that would build goodwill within his party, and he couldn’t stop sexting even when he was planning a comeback from a sexting scandal that forced his resignation from Congress.
If you’re the sort of person who can’t pass the Stanford marshmallow test, you shouldn’t be running for mayor.
I don’t particularly care about politicians’ marital infidelities.* Eliot Spitzer’s enjoyment of prostitutes hasn’t stopped me from being enthusiastic about his run for Comptroller. That’s because he has a record of actual accomplishment that suggests he would be good at the job. Unlike Weiner, Spitzer’s infidelities do not reinforce already-existing reasons to doubt his suitability.
Melber is right that we should be less hung up on sex and Savage, et al, are right that we’re going to have to get used to seeing leaked cell phone pictures of politicians’ junk. But that doesn’t mean that Weiner, personally, should continue to run for office.
*As a side note, I do think Weiner’s sexting is an infidelity. Savage raises the possibility that Weiner and his wife Huma Abedin “have an agreement” that allows sexting. That strikes me as exceedingly unlikely, since Abedin is widely reputed to be ambitious and not an idiot, making her unlikely to sign off on hugely politically risky behaviour by her husband. The resignation this weekend of Weiner’s campaign manager, Danny Kedem, also suggests that Kedem was not briefed about and on board with his candidate’s post-2011 sexting activities. That is, while Weiner’s sexting is not directly a matter of public concern, it does appear to have been a breach of private trust.
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