Sympathy for Anthony Weiner
Anthony Weiner screwed up again. The man who resigned in disgrace from Congress over his illicit sexting scandal, then self-sabotaged his comeback bid in the New York mayoral race with similarly bad behavior, was just caught sexting yet again — this time with a supposed Donald Trump supporter.
Within 24 hours, a press release from Weiner's wife (and Hillary Clinton aide) Huma Abedin announced their imminent separation. The reaction was nearly universal. To him, the world shouted, "Again!?" To her, "Finally!"
But all I felt was a kick reflex of sympathy. As a dog that returneth to his vomit, so is the fool that repeateth his folly, says the proverb. Anthony Weiner is a bit of a dog. And he certainly looks like a fool.
What does that make the rest of us? Weiner is no longer a public officeholder. So why do we care about him? His faults make the cover of a New York tabloid for a cocktail of superficial reasons. Namely, that he's the spouse of an aide to Hillary Clinton, and "Weiner" makes for easy punchlines.
It was wrong and stupid for Weiner to send a picture of himself in his underwear to a stranger online, and it was doubly wrong and stupid to send one with his sleeping child in it. Some scandalized Twitter users say it is a form of child pornography. But of course, if being in an erotic photo his father sends to one potential paramour violates the child's rights, it is a much worse violation for the New York Post to publish the same photo to millions of readers, hiding the child behind the moral fig leaf of pixelation. The temptation of tabloids is to enflame our prurient interests and call it moralism.
We are supposed to find it shocking that Weiner can't quit this vice, especially because he has been caught and embarrassed by it so often. But why? Don't we all know people who have trouble controlling their vices, no matter how much havoc it wreaks on their lives and on the people who surround them?
Somewhere out there, you know or are related to someone who wrecked his life with debt, food, sex, drugs, or booze. His life came apart. He may have lost the love and respect of his closest family members. His faults may have even brought him to to the point of death. What happened? Friends intervened. The troubled person in question publicly detested his faults and promised to do better. He spent time talking about the obvious improvements in his life since giving up the old way of living.
And then a few weeks, months, or years later, the recidivist phone call comes. "Again!?"
So why do we feign surprise with Anthony Weiner?
Many of us keep a journal in which we record personal struggles with our conscience. What is the pattern that emerges there? Either you struggle for years to conquer or manage your faults, or you try to burn away your sense of guilt and declare your faults to be eradicable parts of your character. I'm a Catholic and am obliged to confess my sins to a priest. I find that I confess the same sins year after year, decade after decade. We are who we are.
One could say this proves that we are simply helpless in the face of our peculiar predilections and temptations. I reject that, and believe this struggle is every man and woman's path to learning humility. It teaches us that we depend on the grace and forgiveness of others, and so we are obliged to forgive others and bear with them. Weiner's doctoral course in public humiliation is particularly brutal.
Pity Weiner. So few people are inclined to bear with him now. It's also clear that his position encourages others to take advantage of his faults. The latest two "sext scandals" in which he was embroiled seem like instances of "catfishing." Unscrupulous people know this is his vice, and they use his weakness to embarrass him, or to embarrass Huma Abedin and Hillary Clinton through him.
In some ways, I like the way Weiner has handled his public humiliation. He's made jokes when confronted about it. If you ever catch the documentary on him, he seems winningly aware of the ways in which this besetting sin is messing up his life. He's made statements of remorse, but he seems to have avoided America's ritualized form of insincere public apology: going in front of the cameras and having a planned, self-pitying, meltdown about his uncontrollable addictions and need for treatment.
I hope the public grows tired of the punning headlines and gives Anthony Weiner the time to find a redemption more compelling than a political comeback.