Tuesday, June 14, 2011

THE CONGRESSMAN'S FATAL FLAW

Some people ask me why I haven’t said or written much about the Anthony Weiner story. After all, in the past couple of years I have been all over the John Edwards debacle (which many liken to Weiner’s current situation), Spitzer, Clinton, et al. As anyone who reads my words knows, I’m not a fan of John Edwards. He’s the definition of political sleaze. The fact is, I don’t see Weiner’s downfall – and it is a downfall – in the same category as the other boys. The others, as well as John Ensign, Chris Lee (the NY Congresssman who resigned after shirtless Craigslist ads surfaced), Larry Craig, David Vitter, are somehow easily grouped together under the heading of “Washington sex scandals.” Weiner’s political and personal demise are somehow different – I won’t go so far as to use the word “pathetic,” but certainly pitiful.

So, why do I pity Anthony Weiner? To really get a grasp on what drove the guy to take pictures of himself nude and semi-nude, I think you need a mental picture of who he is – or was. Raised in Brooklyn as part of a Jewish family, Weiner’s early life reads conventional. Middle class, hockey player, good student, B.A. in poli-sci and a first job working for Congressman Chuck Schumer. It was probably during the stint with Schumer that Weiner, who reportedly had earlier aspirations to be a TV weatherman, found his activist voice. Based on his geography and environment, it is not surprising that voice became almost radically liberal. Over the years, Weiner ascended the political ranks steadily and some might say quickly. Now a Congressman, Weiner says mayor of New York is the only job that looks better to him than the one he currently holds. Up until this month, many believed he was a shoe-in for the job. He is often described in terms like brash, abrasive, aggressive, loud and demanding. And his constituents like the fact that he gets things done. Things that matter to them. By all outward appearances, Anthony Weiner was an up and comer, who at 46 probably had decades of political life left in him, and likely would have channeled some of his boundless energy and respectable work ethic into real progress for New York.

So many people do not understand the internal pressure that men in their 40s often feel. My take on the Weiner drama is that the pressure to produce and succeed got the best of him. And I do not in any way apologize for his Twitter idiocies, but I do get it. There is a window of opportunity in America for men to “make it.” In parallel, there is a window of opportunity for men to feel hot and attractive. The windows on both often begin slowly to close after the late 40s. Weiner is 46 years old. And then there is that old favorite, testosterone. So let’s do the math. Career aspirations/expectations + age + sexual drive = what? I would say in the case of a rather arrogant, ambitious public figure the equation can equal disaster. Personal disaster that rapidly becomes public.

I have watched many men fall to their own fatal flaw of self absorption. If the whole world continually tells you how exceptional you are and what a wunderkind you are, maybe you might start believing it. I had a smart grad school professor who once said, “People are often what you invite them to be.” Did New York invite Anthony Weiner to be full of Anthony Weiner? Was he powerless to fight the allure of self-absorption? I think so.

Here’s the sidebar to all of this: What Weiner did is the same thing that millions of men – and women – do every day. Did you think somehow that all of the visual technology we now have at our fingertips was not going to become part of the sexual landscape? We’re an increasingly visual culture that was already an off-the-map sexual culture. Smart phones and Twitter just gave us the necessary tools. If you are one of those people who read this and think, “I would never do that,” more power to you. But if you think a lot of people you know aren’t doing it, you may be deluding yourself. And if you think Anthony Weiner is the only legislator doing it, I beg to differ.

So, why then are we passing such puritanical judgment on the guy for being sexual and visual? It is because our traditional American moral code tells us what he did was bad. But for my part, I don’t think suggestive pictures sent to young women are going to kill his career. Lying will do that all by itself. Here is Weiner speaking to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on June 1:

And here he is on ABC’s Good Morning America:

Step one in Weiner’s political demise was arrogance and his belief that manipulating words would be all that was needed to cover his ass (think Bill Clinton - “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”). But his ultimate fall from the mountaintop had everything to do with his lies. America may have forgiven him his sexual trespasses, his self-absorption, his need to be seen by young women, his well-known brash behavior. America will not forgive the lies.
I believe we will see Anthony Weiner resign by the end of this week. Call it a hunch. Stay tuned.

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