Who are we to tell Anthony Weiner to quit?

We need to get used to the idea that most reasonable people do dumb stuff sometimes. Or many times

Topics: Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., War Room, Democratic Party, New York, New York City, U.S. House of Representatives,

Who are we to tell Anthony Weiner to quit?Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., answers questions from the media as he carries his laundry to a laundromat near his home in the Queens borough of New York, Saturday, June 11, 2011. The 46-year-old congressman acknowledged Friday that he had online contact with a 17-year-old girl from Delaware but said there was nothing inappropriate. (AP Photo/David Karp)(Credit: AP)

Over the weekend, TMZ released a couple more humiliating photos of Rep. Anthony Weiner, taken in the House gym and sent to an unidentified woman. The Ethics Committee began its inquiry into his lewd behavior, and Weiner was said to be entering some sort of “treatment.” (Do they have in-patient treatment options for taking and sending nudez, now? Or will this be treatment for run-of-the-mill smug narcissism?) (If the latter, shouldn’t the rest of the New York congressional delegation join him?) And people continued writing things about whether he should or should not resign, framing it either as a political calculation (he’s bad for the Democrats!) or a moral issue (he lied!).

I tend to find it pretty silly when pundits, columnists and bloggers “call for” the resignations of any public officials guilty of having embarrassing things reported about them. (As opposed to the ones who are caught on wiretaps accepting bribes or something.) This time is no different. I have never been much of a fan of Anthony Weiner (which may surprise some BigGovernment.com readers, but there is plenty of evidence to support that claim) (remember when he compared the Gaza Flotilla to an imaginary terror boat from Yemen headed for New Jersey?), but I never called on him to resign because I thought he was a tool of reactionary anti-Muslim bigots, so why bother calling for his head now that I know he’s a tool of reactionary bigots who also enjoys sexting porn stars?

Should he resign for lying? It was the most understandable sort of lying in the world: the kind done in desperation to avoid public embarrassment. Politicians lie daily about matters of life and death and political reporters don’t much care. It was actually much more shameful when Weiner said the Palestinian delegation to the U.N. should “start packing their little Palestinian terrorist bags.” But that sort of statement, unlike a self-taken nude photo, is considered within the realm of acceptable politician behavior.



So, yes, I would like Anthony Weiner to resign, but I’d also like Mike Bloomberg, the editorial board of the Washington Post, Maureen Dowd, and celebrity chef Curtis Stone to quit their jobs, too. And I have very good reasons to want all of those people to go away, but I am realistic about the worth of my opinion in each case. All I can do is explain what’s wrong with them (respectively: tool, tyrant, morons, predictable, poor man’s Gordon Ramsay) and hope the people in charge of making such decisions are convinced by my arguments. Thus far, Weiner’s constituents have not been convinced.

If Anthony Weiner wants to stop facing a seemingly endless series of incredibly public humiliations, he should resign. (He also shouldn’t have sent so many people so many dirty pictures of himself!) (Or at least he should’ve understood that as soon as you send someone a dirty picture via the Internet, it will likely end up on a disreputable site like MediaTakeOut or BigJournalism.com.)

But grossness is not a compelling reason to demand that someone resign from public service, especially when Weiner will face the voters next year anyway; he’s not a senator five years out from his next reelection campaign, insulated from the electoral consequences of his actions. (If he were a senator his colleagues would probably be much less likely to demand his head, but that’s barely relevant.)

Grossness is a compelling reason to write about a public figure, though. Here I break with Peter Beinart, who wrote in the DailyNewsBeast yesterday that it’s none of our business what Weiner did. Beinart wants more compassion! And he maybe kinda wants political reporters to withhold embarrassing stories out of a sense of decorum, like in the good old days!

How many of the pundits mocking Weiner have marriages that could survive the kind of scrutiny they have been giving his? The realization that everyone’s private life is messy and flawed should produce humility and compassion. Instead, pundits enter the public arena as disembodied Olympian figures, entitled to render the harshest of verdicts, secure in the knowledge that no one will ever investigate their most intimate of domains.

We need a new rulebook. Credible allegations of nonconsensual sex — the kind of thing Dominique Strauss-Kahn is alleged to have done — are absolutely fair game. But when it comes to adultery and virtual adultery between consenting adults, it’s way past time that prominent figures in the media loudly declare that it is none of their business, and they won’t join the scrum.

Humility and compassion are wonderful qualities that are in very short supply in America these days, because they’re queer/European attitudes, but adultery by celebrities has always been newsworthy. Even Ramesh Ponnuru, who’s with Beinart on the general niceness of pundit self-restraint about affairs (how old-fashioned!) finds that Weiner’s embarrassments are worthy of coverage. What looks like a moral outrage is sometimes just a collective mass of Americans marveling at the stupidity and stunningly poor decision-making of the powerful and prominent. This is what democracy looks like! (It’s gross!)

Michelle Goldberg’s Tablet piece is a bit more sophisticated than Beinart’s take, pointing out that we’re all endlessly castigating people for behaviors that have always been common (pace Megan McArdle, who thinks The Kids Today invented dick pix) among the powerful and regular folks alike. Those acts (not just the sexting, but also, say, writing dumb, inflammatory things to an email listserv, or posing for photos that seem funny when you’re drunk) are now all documented instantly and endlessly reproducible, which means a million new potential humiliations for all of us, every day!

It could be that the ability to guard one’s public image, despite the Internet’s intrusions and temptations, is a requisite of modern political life. In that case, Weiner will have to go. But his crime wasn’t engaging in legal and not even particularly kinky cybersex. It was getting caught.

Given the virtual panopticon we now live in, Weiner won’t be the last person to be subjected to this kind of merciless exposure and ridicule. That’s why at some point, unless we want to endure a constant cycle of scandal and personal destruction, we should really figure out some way of forgiving people for being grossly human in public.

The only answer to this situation with any hope of alleviating the cycle of ridicule is to just get used to the idea that most reasonable people do dumb shit, sometimes. Or many times.

To sum up: Should Anthony Weiner resign? On a strictly personal level, why would he even want to go back to his suddenly dead-end job, with a bunch of people who hate him? But on the other hand, the benefits are pretty good, and he’s got a kid on the way. I guess he’ll have to mull this over, while he’s in the Vincent Gallo Clinic for Sufferers of Inflated Self-Regard.

Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at apareene@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @pareene

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>