Weiner’s woes and the politics of repentance

Until now I’ve refrained from blogging about the Twitter troubles of Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY), mostly because it was so unclear to me whether the charges that he distributed suggestive photos of himself through the social networking site were accurate or just another Internet-driven political hit job.

Well, today all doubt was removed when Weiner, first elected in 1998, stood before the assembled press in Manhattan and announced that he had, in fact, used Twitter to send a picture of himself in his BVDs to a woman. (See the Jewish Week story on today’s events here.)

I’ve talked to Weiner only a few times over the years, watched a few of his press conferences and read his statements. He never struck me as an unusually bad congressman – or as an unusually effective one. His antics in front of the camera and at hearings are legendary in Washington; today’s public confession that he has been sending suggestive photos and messages to Internet correspondents for some time now suggests there’s more to his volatile, erratic public persona than just a desire for the limelight.

In recent years we’ve had plenty of evangelical Christian politicians get caught with their pants down, so to speak; after some public breast beating and maybe a counseling session with a famous pastor, they seem to move on and continue with their political careers. One of them is even running for president in 2012.

I wonder if it’s harder for Jewish pols like Weiner, who lack the language and institutional mechanisms of public confession and repentance. I wonder if Jewish constituents are as willing to forgive and forget; maybe for them, the issue in the next election will be stupidity, not sin. We’ll get the answer to that next November.

From the beginning, Weiner did what so many others in a similar predicament have done: deny everything, accuse his accusers and offer muddled explanations that only add to the impression they’re lying.

And he fell victim to the error that did in John Edwards and so many others: a failure to grasp that the relative immunity from exposure that protected political sinners in the distant past no longer applies. A bitter political culture, the rise of the Internet and thousands of pit-bull bloggers, the advent of cell phone cameras – a seething combination of titillation and technology – have collided with the end of the old gentleman’s agreement in the press to look the other way at the private dalliances of the mighty. The unlearned and apparently unlearnable lesson: in this brave new world, denials and coverups never work.

That said, recent history suggests Weiner isn’t an automatic goner in the next election. The public loves a lurid political scandal and the self-righteous pleasures of damning the sinner, but voters like politicians who deliver the goods for them and their communities. I’m betting Anthony Weiner will be just about the most attentive congressman New York’s 9th Congressional District ever had – at least until next November.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.