I was giving a seminar on building an organizational culture free from sexual harassment today, and happened to mention Rep. Anthony Weiner’s Twitter misadventures. “Allegedly!” shouted out one of the participants. “Allegedly,” I conceded. “But I’m pretty sure we’re going to find out that he behaved inappropriately; I knew that the minute he said that the crotch in the picture might have been his. Might have been his? What kind of guy his age takes photos of his crotch?” By the time I left the seminar at about 4 PM, Rep. Weiner was already engaged in his excruciating press conference, confessing, apologizing, and taking the full brunt of the media’s onslaught.
A woman had come forward to reveal more photos the Congressman had sent to her over social media…sad, embarrassing photos for any man over the age of 16 that hinted at untreated emotional problems in a man with a new wife, a high-profile job, and so much to lose. Rep. Weiner had to come clean, not that he had been doing a very convincing job of lying over the past week.
Give him credit for a forthright capitulation to the truth, once he changed his story.
It is easy to say that he had no choice, but we have all watched other politicians admit to worse without seeming so genuinely contrite. Weiner did not make excuses. He did not duck responsibility. He was sincerely sorry and remorseful. He did not avoid the tough questions (though the ones he refused to answer, like whether he engaged in phone sex with and of the (now six) women he referred to as his web buddies, added to the perception that he had engaged in more than just exchanges of revealing photos), and he did not try to deflect the obvious conclusions. Good for him. One can only imagine how humiliating the experience must have been for him.
Rep. Weiner also said that he did not intend to resign, that his disgraceful personal conduct did not change his dedication to the job he was elected to do or diminish his ability to do it. Does he have an obligation to resign, if he believes that? I don’t think he does, if he believes that. I don’t believe that, however; I think Congressman Weiner is deluded. He has an obligation to resign, and even if he did not, it would still be the most ethical thing to do.
I see no way that an elected official who has engaged in so many lies to so many people, publicly and privately, can remain an effective Congressman. You can replay all the silly, if effective, defenses of Bill Clinton that you want, those about how “everyone lies about sex”; what the episode proves is that Weiner is willing and able to lie when it suits his needs. No constituent should trust him. No colleague should trust him. You can’t practice politics with no credibility, and he has none.
You also can’t be effective without respect. Rep. Weiner is a now a walking joke. He had inappropriate relationships with young girls, sent photos of his chest, crotch, “pussy” and God knows what else over the internet, the type of conduct that was enough to scar the reputation of Bret Favre…and the expectations for football players are juuuuust a bit lower than for members of Congress, or at least were six months ago. Weiner’s judgment is suspect; his self-control is suspect; his metal stability is suspect. The respect we should have for his courageous apology doesn’t begin to compensate for the respect he has lost by behaving like a crude, irresponsible fool.
And a dishonest crude, irresponsible fool at that. He lied in the face of more than one interviewer, notably CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. He lied to his wife, his colleagues, and his constituents, and there is every reason to believe that he would have kept lying, if the proverbial “other shoe” hadn’t dropped with such a thud.
This is enough. The previous foolish Congressman to send a racy (?) photo of himself to a woman was Rep. Chris Lee, a married Republican who was trolling for girls. He resigned immediately. The difference being floated by hopeful Democrats and deluded commentators is that Lee was also a hypocrite, a Tea Party values candidate who was proven a fraud, while Weiner, a hard-left favorite of progressives who reject sexual fidelity as a relevant factor where their leaders are concerned, isn’t similarly wounded by his revelations, or bound by conventional morality.
Lee’s conduct was practically dignified compared to what Weiner did, and Lee didn’t spend a week lying his head off and throwing around accusations. Both degraded their office and the institution of the House of Representatives approximately to the same degree, though Weiner’s behavior was undeniably worse.
Indeed, Weiner can do some good by finally, firmly, establishing a precedent for future elected fools. Disgraceful private behavior that becomes public, when accompanied by lies to the press and an attempted cover-up, creates an obligation for elected leaders to resign, regardless of position or party. There is no reason not to have such a standard, and every reason to create it and lock it in place. If Weiner leaves office and, better yet, if he articulates the right reasons for doing so, future misbehaving public officials will be relieved of having to wrestle with the question of whether their unethical conduct requires a resignation. They will already have their answer.
We’re waiting for you to do the right thing, Congressman. Don’t disappoint us.