It is not lost on me; my rising to anyone's defense, particularly a Democratic progressive, on a sex-related issue could be the kiss of death. It is like Bernie Madoff recommending a financial advisor. Still, I could not let the firestorm over the actions of Congressman Anthony Weiner pass without comment. The reaction to Weiner is disproportionate and reflects a disquiet or fear that is pervasive in our culture.
According to published reports, Congressman Weiner sent pictures of himself to women online in various stages of undress and arousal. We also know he flirted and engaged in sexually themed text messages. We know most of this activity took place while he was single, but some after he recently married. The women involved were all adults. It is safe to assume some of them sent Weiner pictures and engaged in sexy repartee with him in return. Weiner never physically met any of these women. These were all virtual exchanges.
The Republicans have naturally called on Weiner to resign as have most Democrats including the President. The Republicans are just hypocrites. The Democrats are craven. They are mad at Weiner for stepping all over their attacks on Republicans for the disastrous Ryan plan to end Medicare as we know it. Weiner has taken them off message and for this he must go. The same Democrats who defended Bill Clinton, whose transgressions were real not virtual, are screaming for Weiner's scalp. It is not a chapter for profiles in courage.
Weiner should not resign. He should finish out his term and stand for re-election. If his constituents are disgusted with him, they can then turn him out. There is a bigger picture here which is much more interesting. For 2 weeks, there has been a media frenzy. (thus the Democrats anger at Weiner) You couldn't turn on the news without hearing about this scandal. Ask yourself what go more coverage, Weiner or the massacres happening in Syria right now? What dominated the news cycle...Weiner's sexting and tons of Weiner jokes or the fact millions of Americans are out of work, losing their homes and the economy might double dip, China is near war over the South China Sea, the nation faces possible default if the debt ceiling is not raised and speculators have driven the price of oil into the stratosphere? Now ask yourselves why this is happening?
Weiner did nothing illegal and if you want to pick nits about him being married during this activity, isn't that between him and his wife? I seem to remember a series of stories from the L.A, Times about Arnold Schwarzenegger. He was accused by at least 6 women of grabbing them, pinching them, touching their genitals and overall predatory school-boy, locker room behavior. His wife countered the stories did not show what a good father and husband he was and came to his defense. Many of you voted for him. Weiner's actions pale in comparison, yet the Times was attacked for publishing the stories...for trying to influence an election. for printing salacious rumors and innuendo and the media coverage was brief and didn't even make it to the tabloids. The calls for him not to run were few and far between. Why?
I don’t know how congressional Republicans look at themselves in the mirror. Recently, Newt Gingrich stood on a stage in New Hampshire running for President. This is a man who dumped his first wife while she was in the hospital recovering from cancer surgery. He dumped his second wife while having an affair with wife number 3 all while leading the attempt to impeach President Clinton for immoral actions. Really? Weiner's behavior is worse than that? Sen. John Ensign of Nevada had an affair with a member of his staff, bought off her husband, broke federal law and did not resign nor did the Republican leadership call for him to do so in any forceful way. He stepped down only because the Senate Ethics Committee was about to refer his case to the Justice Department. Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana has been re-elected despite paying for high priced hookers and despite being poster boy for hypocrite of 2008. He is anti gay marriage, pro birth, regressive evangelical Christian who wears his family values on his sleeve, wants new laws to make divorce more difficult and yet broke the law and engaged in prostitution, actions which were barely mentioned in the media and on the campaign trail. It is not a cliché to say the list is endless.
We live in a culture where everything has been sexualized and we are not comfortable with the freedom associated with this evolution. Catholic University just announced it is returning to single sex dorms because the coed dorms led to too much "hooking up". Their next step will be chastity belts. In some ways, the more open and tolerant we are, the more Puritan some people become. Someone has to stand up and say that the emperor has no clothes and acknowledge something is amiss in our society and it scares the hell out of us.
I can tell you for a fact, millions of Americans go online every night and pretend to be someone else, or assume different personalities and engage in every fantasy, fetish, and fabrication known to man. There is an illusion of anonymity, which creates the sense you can say or do anything because no one will ever find out and it’s all virtual or make believe anyway. You will never meet the person at the other end. Ironically, Weiner wasn't acting anonymously. The women he engaged asked to follow him via his Twitter account. He was more transparent than 90% of all other denizens of the cyber world.
Before he was married, Weiner doesn't have anything to apologize for and since he was married, he and his wife have to figure this whole issue out between them. One piece of advice to him and everyone: If what you are doing online you wouldn't do with someone looking over your shoulder, it has the potential to come back and bite you in the butt.
Weiner says he is taking a leave of absence for "treatment". What on earth is he going to get treatment about? He isn't a serial philanderer like Tiger Woods. He didn't do anything illegal. He showed terrible judgment and he lied about what he had done. He was embarrassed when his activities were discovered. So, is this the new standard now? Anyone who makes these mistakes must resign? Would there be anyone left in Washington or any marriages or relationships left to defend under this new code of ethics?
Maybe this is all a symptom of a fear gripping some Americans. Sex is everywhere. Traditional cultural milestones are going the way of the dodo. Marriage is losing popularity and if people choose to get married, divorce is seen as a convenient way out. People are choosing virtual fantasy and sex over the real thing. The Internet is this black hole of temptation and opportunity where people can put on any identity, be a physical Adonis or Venus, engage in any experiment, communicate anonymously without any attendant commitment or attachment. We seem to be so frightened of what we know is going on...so intimidated by the freedom this represents in millions of homes every day, we think righteous indignation and outrage will somehow bring it under control before the next generation succumbs.
Could it be Weiner is the collective symbol of our own hearts of darkness? (There, but for the grace of God go I.) Perhaps if the powers that be come down hard on the Weiners of the world, the genie can be put back in the bottle. Maybe we wonder what would happen if our darker selves and our less-than-angelic behavior were to surface? Is attacking Weiner the equivalent of a cry to "Stop us before we do this again?"
Funny isn't it? That's what the Puritans thought when they burned witches, banned books, pinned on scarlet letters and tried to control people's private thoughts and deeds. How did that work out?