Everybody loves a good sex scandal, and these days nobody’s disappointed. Politicians in particular appear constitutionally incapable of keeping their intimate arrangements from public scrutiny. In the case of New York mayoral candidate Anthony D. Weiner, it appears, the more public, the better.
Satirist Andy Borowitz captured the tone perfectly, joking that Weiner had appointed his close friend “Carlos Danger” campaign manager, since “he was already making most of the major decisions, anyway.” The candidate praised the new hire as “’a tough hombre’ who ‘cares about the struggles of ordinary, middle-class New Yorkers.’”
Joking aside, however, breathes there a man or woman with a soul so calloused they’ve never thought, “OMG, I’m glad it’s not me”? Pretending to be horrified at other people’s sins is a sadistic activity. After all, doing foolhardy things while naked isn’t exactly rare behavior among human beings.
During the Clinton scandals of legend and song, I’d sometimes warily observe my fellow Walmart shoppers. As hard as it could be to believe sometimes, almost everybody there had sex secrets they wouldn’t want seen on TV.
That’s pretty much why most people ended up giving Bill Clinton a pass. Among the myriad mistakes made by the clueless Kenneth Starr and his crack team of prosecutorial bedsheet sniffers, televising his grand jury testimony may have been the most telling. Making the president the protagonist of a one-man inquisition — with faceless prosecutors barking out insultingly intimate questions — caused all but the most hardcore Clinton-haters to empathize with the big dope.
Meantime, everybody was having a big time discussing oral sex at the office water cooler — the very existence of which was previously unacknowledged in workaday culture (particularly among journalists, of course, an occupation universally known for the spotless probity of our own private lives).
There’s a good deal less sympathy for former Rep. Weiner, although he probably deserves more than he’s gotten. Never mind what the old Johnny Cash song called a “wicked wandering eye.” Weiner’s transgressions invite sheer disbelief.
Me, I don’t believe I could possibly get drunk enough to email photos of my naughty bits to strange women. I’d pass out first. Somebody else would have to send out digital images of me hugging the commode.
Not to mention, where on earth would one find a woman who wouldn’t immediately call the cops upon receiving such a photo?
On Howard Stern’s show and “Inside Edition,” actually, smiling like a Miss Universe contestant and telling us that she is proof that Weiner hasn’t changed since his resignation. Or something. Honestly, I couldn’t make out what Sydney Leathers’ point was supposed to be, apart from enjoying her moment of notoriety.
But that’s enough moralizing. What I said about Weiner deserving a measure of sympathy derives from my belief that his cannot be rationally consequent behavior. It’s pathological. The man must suffer from some hitherto undiagnosed mental illness — a brain disease requiring not merely talk therapy but hospitalization and medication.
Mental health professionals consulted by New York Times reporters suggested several possible diagnoses.
“It’s as if you were being exposed to the mental processes of a 9-year-old boy,” suggested a Cornell professor of clinical psychiatry. But no, such a person shouldn’t be running for high public office; he should be seeking medical treatment. At this writing, however, it appears that New York voters may have to make that decision on Weiner’s behalf.
Meanwhile, believe it or not, the Dear Abby and Ann Landers of Washington political journalism have identified the real villain: Hillary Clinton.
Because Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, has long been the former Secretary of State’s closest aide, the incomparable New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd has written that “defining deviancy downward, Senor and Senora Danger are using the Clinton playbook.”
This is because the Clintons supposedly “argued that if Hillary didn’t object (to Bill’s indiscretions), why should voters?” That this absurd claim never existed anywhere but Dowd’s imagination shouldn’t distract anybody from the real malefactors: “Weiner’s ... grotesquerie earns him another name: the ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ of the Clintons.”
Hillary, see, made him do it.
Washington’s most-celebrated trophy wife draws a similar conclusion. Why is Huma Abedin standing at her husband’s side, asks the Washington Post’s Sally Quinn? Why, because “as Clinton’s assistant, she has seen the limos, the planes, the salutes and the flags, and that is the life she aspires to ... She saw the Clintons get away with infidelity, and she fooled herself into thinking she and Weiner could also ride this one out.”
Now if I were a person like Quinn, whose famous husband, legendary Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, devoted a chapter in his autobiography, “A Good Life,” to describing exactly how she seduced him away from his wife and children, I might be more circumspect in my judgments of others. But nobody gets anywhere in Washington being shy.
———Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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