Weinergate And The Government We Deserve

Representative Anthony Weiner is a liar, a cad and a hypocrite. We now know as much; he told us so when he confessed to what he had previously denied about sending a sexually suggestive photograph to a young woman over Twitter. But he is a member of Congress, so can anyone be surprised that he lacks a certain sense of gravitas? When I vote in Congressional elections, I always write in the name Clarence Darrow. Sure, Darrow is long since dead. But at least he stood for something other than perpetual reelection.

There is a book to be written about the Internet and the lowering of inhibitions. We now live in a push-button culture. If you can think it, say it, is the motto of the day. It breeds a coward’s bravado; speech is confused with actually doing something.

The online world is an easy trap for the unwary, as I well know. Just the other day I got into a senseless round of sniping with a professional jeerocrat, making a complete ass of myself. It felt good, so I did, so there. But now it’s old and sorry news, yesterday’s roadkill for those who love to rubberneck. Beware the clatter of keyboard cowboys.

The online world makes instant push-button Lotharios and heroes of us all. Scan the comments section of a local newspaper sometime. One anonymous screed after another, soon cross-breeding and piping vitriol at one another in steaming bundles of verbal offal.  Weiner apparently thought he was a sex symbol. He found a she to bite his bytes, didn’t he?

Calls for Weiner’s resignation seem a little overdone, however. If his wife can forgive him his online libidinal hijinks, that’s their business. Is Weinergate really all worth all the storm and stress? We’re a sexophrenic culture, after all. We drape everything in a cheap, easy and accessible sexuality, and then savagely attack anyone who colors outside the libidinal lines. I don’t like what I know about Weiner, but that is, perhaps, because I now know too much. Better the days of discretion.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California is calling for an ethics investigation of Weiner. “I am deeply disappointed and saddened about this situation,” she said. Under House rules, members are required to conduct them selves “at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House.”

I recall well how we mocked Jimmy Carter for confessing to the lust known only to his heart. Comes now Weiner excusing his chit-chat by saying he’d never actually laid hands on the women with whom he engaged in electronic sex play. We’ve travelled from one extreme to another in a flash. I find myself thinking of John F. Kennedy; when there was horseplay in Camelot, it was kept secret, and what we know suggests that Kennedy’s lust was consonant with his ambition: Marilyn Monroe, anyone. What a world, I sigh, when I think of Bill Clinton and his ungainly intern.

Folks ought to be pressing members of Congress about the bailouts for bankers, the two Americas separating before our very eyes -- a tiny world of wealthy plutocrats floating amid the sorrows of the forgotten and vanishing middle class. Instead we get this silliness about online sex, and this high moral dudgeon about libidinal fantasies made too real, and too easily. 

Weiner’s an easy target for those too lazy to shoot at what matters. I don’t pity him the scorn directed at him. I pity us for aiming so low, and letting this pettiness serve as the standard by which we gauge fitness for office. We get the government we deserve. Weinergate suggests we don’t deserve much.


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