The wang factor in politics
After all is said and done, what do Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner have in common?
We've seen their wangs. They have nothing left to be ashamed of.
Shame is a driving force in life and politics. Its absence is supposedly the public persona that most in Washington create for themselves. They are strong, true to their values, full of rectitude and passion, governed by the higher order impulses in life. Absurdly, we're supposed to take these visions seriously, as if somehow all of these morally pulchritudinous people live in a city that, strangely, operates along the axes of self-aggrandizement and accumulation of influence and wealth.
Both Spitzer and Weiner had sophisticated and heavy public personas. The moment that their private lives became public, those personas popped like a stock market bubble. What was left was, basically, their naked selves. No more denying that these voracious men were driven by a desire to have sex a lot, and that they had ungainly urges that make us uncomfortable to gawk at. That's one reason we joke a lot; the actual thought of human beings we know having and acting on their sexual urges is a bit cringe-worthy.
In Weiner's case, we literally saw the outline of his penis. Spitzer, and David Vitter, for that matter, were exposed as, if not hypocrites, then people who took advantage of their power to try and get away with behavior that people with lesser means go to jail for.
Now these guys are back. They want power, again. They have no shame. That's been a knock against them, but maybe it's a notch in their belts, too.
They don't have to pretend anymore, or at least, they don't have to pretend nearly as much.
They can speak a bit more honestly. They don't have to create elaborate and psychologically onerous public personas that cannot possibly be sustained.
They may be less cautious and less willing to settle for contrivance.
Sex is not the only lower order pleasure that drives politicians of course, but it's the one that seems the most icky, and getting it off the table by exposing it may create a species of politician who can better handle the media, better appreciate the fragility of human beings, and perhaps speak more truth to power.
I'm not saying that pulling down your pants in public makes you a better politician. It's just that, for voters, it's clear what Weiner, Spitzer and Vitter have to hide, which is to say, nothing much.
That may be one reason we're attracted to political/sexual redemption stories in the first place.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- 31 TV shows to watch in 2014
- The world's dumbest idea: Taxing solar energy
- Why atheism doesn't have the upper hand over religion
- 14 wonderful words with no English equivalent
- He said he was leaving. She ignored him.
- Attack of the invasive species
- Which states get screwed worst by the Electoral College?
- How Captain America won over China
- If a nuclear bomb exploded in downtown Washington, what should you do?
- Why I'm a pro-life liberal
Subscribe to the Week