I hate to open on such an inelegant note, but when the word of the week is "Weinergate," how else to start? "Yuck," "ick," "you've got to be kidding," "not again," "his poor wife," and "how can anyone be so stupid?" just don't seem to fully capture it.
Not that the present national mood of revulsion vis-a-vis power and prurience should be blamed solely upon the distinguished gentleman from Oscar Meyer. On the contrary: Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) would appear to exhibit by far the mildest strain yet seen in the alarming outbreak of toxic crotch syndrome that is now imperiling our power elite. And what an outbreak it is. Just in the past few weeks, Dominique Strauss-Kahn has gone from global economics god and French presidential favorite to sex-crime defendant. Arnold Schwarzenegger has admitted that he has an adolescent son with the family housekeeper, thereby spawning such enchanted anglicisms as "sperminator." John Edwards has been indicted, thus finally bridging his fabled "Two Americas": the one in which he was running for president hand in hand with his brave, cancer-stricken wife; and the other in which he was fathering a baby with a videographer, and then trying to hide mother and child under a pile of possibly-illegal campaign cash. By comparison, Weiner comes off as almost benign for merely sending images and/or descriptions of his eponymous organ across the internet to a number of women over a number of years.
Given such a parade of sex-based self-immolations, what is there possibly to say about this most recent one? To rant and rage seems like overkill; once a guy has gone from plausible contender for New York's mayoralty to congressional mendicant, begging his district for mercy, there seems to be little to gain from chastising him further. The Strauss-Kahn mess has squelched the reliable "relax-already-this-would-be-nothing-in-France" line of argument. And I can't share in the Democratic cri de coeur that the disgrace of their angry youngish man constitutes a tragic distraction from such important issues as Medicare. Rest assured, just as many policy wonks will produce careful analysis of Medicare as they would have if Weiner had kept his chock-a-block undies to himself, and just as few Americans will read it.
What about the evolving techno-sexual social morés that give rise to this kind of episode? Just thinking about that stuff makes me feel like a prudish Luddite martian. I simply can't imagine that I am from the same planet as any woman who would receive a, shall we say, self-portrait of Weiner and say, "Look, here's that public official I friended on Facebook! And now he has sent a half-naked photo of himself to my phone! Cool!"
Perhaps it's worth sifting through the rubble for some nugget of insight to offer those women who would identify with Weiner's wife. But what would that insight be? "No matter how stunningly beautiful, professionally accomplished, or newly married you are, you can still be mortified beyond belief by your weirdly pseudo-straying spouse." Take that, Simone de Beauvoir.
None of it clicks, but then again, none of it ever clicks. So I'm back to peeling myself off the exact same spot of pavement that I am always peeling myself off at these moments, and gaping with the same repellent kind of wonder at the same dumb questions: Isn't there supposed to be quite a lot of competition to become the head of the IMF or the governor of California or a member of Congress? Can we really not find a way to keep such jobs open to normal human beings with all the normal human failings, but off limits to those who cannot grasp even the most basic concept of common sense?
Apparently not. So far, for whatever reason, it has been impossible for America — and indeed the world; buon giorno, Berlusconi! — to fashion a political class that does not include a major contingent of characters who are off the charts when it comes to sex, and fully committed to pretending otherwise, unless and until they can pretend no more, at which point all hell inevitably breaks loose. Just ask X-rated ex-governors Mark Sanford, Eliot Spitzer, and Jim McGreevey. Oh, and that northeastern congressman who was forced to resign after sending shirtless photos of himself to a woman he met on Craigslist, which recalled the southeastern congressman who was forced to resign after propositioning young male pages via email, and the heartland senator who railed against being forced to resign after he got arrested for cruising another man in a public toilet.
At least, in the end, as Weiner stood at his self-shaming press conference with just his water-bottle for support, the New York Democrat seemed to get that he has a real problem, and that he has made it our problem, too. His voice catching, his eyes misting, his political future as crushed as a cigarette butt in the Sheraton carpet, the poor guy seemed so shaken, I almost wanted to tell him something counterintuitively kind: With the right resolve, any human being can overcome any humiliation.
Then I read TMZ's report alleging that a panicked, post-tweet, pre-contrition Weiner had drafted a statement for his porn-star friend, Ginger Lee, to issue to the press. If this report is accurate — and it definitely rings, or reeks, of authenticity — the statement had Lee denying any relationship beyond her "admiration for Rep. Weiner and his politics," and declaring, "All I can say is I am a fan of his."
I read that, and my first word on Weinergate became my final word, too: Ewww.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Why is it so expensive to build a bridge in America?
- What the collapse of the Ming Dynasty can tell us about American decline
- Why is American internet so slow?
- 7 ways to be the most interesting person in any room
- The GOP must try to win over African-Americans
- Here's proof that Justin Bieber is just as spoiled as you always thought
- 22 TV shows to watch in 2014
- What would a U.S.-China war look like?
Subscribe to the Week