Opinion
8:05 am
Wed June 8, 2011

The Nation: After Puns, One Question For Weiner

Leslie Savan blogs for The Nation about media and politics.

Others have eloquently discussed whether Anthony Weiner should resign (no, say Mike Papantonio and Andrew Sullivan, and they've convinced me), or whether lying about sex necessarily reveals anything about one's character (nope, says Rick Hertzberg, who made me rethink the character issue).

But I'm still stuck on the postmod question that haunts every political sex scandal: Why didn't you learn from the last s------ that got caught?

And its corollary: How can you be so stupid?

So stupid to think your well-known mug wouldn't be recognized (Eliott Spitzer, David Vitter, Chris Lee), so stupid to think you won't eventually be caught (Gary Hart, Clarence Thomas, Larry Craig, John Ensign, John Edwards, Arnold), so stupid to try to a cover-up (Bill Clinton, Ensign, Edwards, etc. etc. etc.) and, especially in this day and age, so stupid as to ever, ever send pictures, chats, or anything even halfway creepy — lord, even a little risque — online, much less on an open, public Twitter account.

Weiner surely exulted in Kathy Hochul's victory in NY-26, which was made possible, after all, by the aforementioned former Representative Chris Lee, who couldn't or wouldn't learn from his predecessors. The married Lee sent hubba-hubba photos of his shirtless self to a woman on Craigslist (and, apparently unlike Weiner, tried to establish personal contact with). The tweeted photo that did Weiner in was sent May 20, long after the Lee scandal had produced the political earthquake of Hochul's victory and established online gaminess as fair game.

Of course, Weiner didn't fess up until he realized that more photos, and more women, were about to reach the public eye, forcing him to end his Nixonian limited hang-out of the previous ten days.

And that invokes the ultimate question for such a rising Democratic star: How could you have been so stupid as to make Andrew Breitbart look good?

At yesterday's crazy, painful press conference — painful to watch him cry, painful to imagine losing such a passionate progressive champion in Congress — someone did ask Weiner the "stupid" question:

Q: When Chris Lee sent that photo and was caught and had to resign, did that make you stop and think, maybe I shouldn't be doing this because I could be caught next? Did that ever go through your mind?

REP. WEINER: I didn't think of it that way. From — I would think about — from time to time, I would say to myself, this is a mistake or this conversation — someone could listen in on or translate to someone else. This was a — I know that there is the sense that everything is part of a plan, and it was thought through and calculated. In this case, it was just me doing a very dumb thing, and for that I accept the responsibility.

At this point, the usual answers to male idiocy are that a lot of men, especially those in power, don't believe they'll ever be caught; or conversely, that they unconsciously want to get caught, perhaps to punish themselves because they feel undeserving of their status.

I can't possibly know what was really going through Anthony Weiner's mind when he did this, and neither can anyone else. But breaking through the wall around your public image with a private urge can be a transgressive thrill.

Can the next pol in line eager to bust through that public/private wall just please think about Weiner and Lee and Edwards a little more than "from time to time"?

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