Anthony Weiner, All Kidding Aside
The way the common political “sex scandal” gets framed is of no use to me. The dominant political discourse reinterprets the facts and people’s reactions to them along the lines of the existing mores, which is exactly what I want to challenge. Insert Foucault analysis here, blah blah. It’s really hard to jump off those rails that track the discussion into familiar narratives. I’m going to try anyway, because I’m stubborn.
I have a problem with what Anthony Weiner did, for a few reasons.
Thing Number One: Nude Photo Sharing Is For Consenting Adults
As Melissa McEwen said, Consent Matters. Weiner didn’t limit himself to trading pictures with consensual partners, which exchanges without more are totally acceptable. He sent explicit photos of himself to at least one woman who didn’t ask for or want them. Sending explicit photos to someone who has not consented to receive them isn’t innocuous. It’s a kind of sexualized bullying. (See also McEwen’s more recent post.)
Thing Number Two: Pressuring Isn’t Consent
If there’s any question that Weiner’s tactics in sending Cordova a photo of his erection were pressure tactics to turn a conversation about policy with a young women who knew him from his legislative career into a sexual exchange for his gratification, we have confirmation from at least one additional source. As reported in the UK paper routinely called the Daily Fail, Lisa Weiss said, “I’d want to talk about politics but he would turn it creepy.” Weiner had a built-in fan club because of his national media presence, but it’s clear that at least some of these women really wanted to engage him in policy discussions. Instead, he pushed them to engage in sexualized exchanges. The additional privilege of being a national political figure isn’t what makes this unacceptable, but it does make it worse. Some of these folks did Democratic Party volunteer work or related stuff that put him in a position to grant or withhold favor.
Thing Number Three: How You Treat The People Closest To You …
With very few exceptions in political sex scandals, the one issue in the background is monogamy; (1) the assumption that all couples are monogamous and that that means the same thing to everyone; (2) the political cost of telling the public otherwise; and (3) the question of whether a failure to keep to a monogamous arrangement matters to one’s public life.
I’ll take the last one first. I don’t think the faithfulness of politicians is entirely a private matter. I don’t need or want my political leaders to be monogamous; I don’t care if they are. But I do want to know if they can be trusted. When they say what they intend to do, we as voters often feel like we’re going to be played for suckers by unscrupulous self-servers who run for office largely for personal self-aggrandizement. Because we usually are. But one really material way to know if that’s what’s going to happen is whether the politician in question remains true to the people who they know best and have the longest, closest relationship with. That’s often their spouses. I don’t care that they promise monogamy, but if they do and ignore that promise, I hold it against them.
The problem is that public profession of monogamy is about as mandatory as public profession of religiosity. Those political couples with more flexible arrangements, and there are surely some, won’t tell us. There would be a serious political cost, because the world doesn’t share my values. Remember 1996? (I’m old, okay?) Roger Stone had a job with the Dole campaign. He and his wife had an add in a swinger magazine. I have no problem with this. They want to have sex with other couples? Go ahead. Have fun, play safe, etc. But the campaign and the voters did, and it cost Stone his job. (Stone is a vile muck-dwelling bottomfeeder for many reasons including his reputed – but unproven - involvement in the “Brooks Brothers Riot” in 2000, but his sex life isn’t something I revile him for.)
So we can’t know for sure that Huma Abedin and Anthony Weiner didn’t have a relationship where trading explicit text and pics, or even meeting up for sex, with other people was permissible. We don’t know for sure, but it seems incredible in the circumstance.
Weiner had a seat in Congress, and he resigned. If he had the “I worked it out with my wife and it was acceptable” card to play, the cost of that couldn’t have been higher than what he lost anyway, which was a seat in a safe district. If he had that card to play, he would have played it.
Further, the surrogates talking to the press after the latest round of revelations say that Huma wasn’t even aware of the exchanges with the most recently disclosed “digimour”, Sydney Leathers, until this Fall, and that she hit the ceiling when she found out. That’s not consistent with the story of a couple who built in some flexibility to accommodate Weiner’s desire for virtual partners.
The picture it paints, rather, is a guy who, after nuking his political career and publicly putting his wife in the middle of a shitstorm, then found a young admirer online and talked about setting her up in a condo as his girlfriend on the side, looking for a better deal in case he decided to bail on the marriage. This, while Huma was participating in his public rehabilitation. If that’s how he treats a person he’s close to, who has been loyal, who he can be expected to feel a sense of duty … then how will he treat the people of the City of New York? It’s outrageously selfish, even by the standards of ego-driven political animals.
The Media Wants To Have The Wrong Conversation
First, the salaciousness sells. Like casual dining chains with faux-leather booths know that fat, salt and sugar keep people coming back, in the news business, the veneer of seriousness is used to dignify appeals to fear and judgment. They want this to be a jaw-dropping peek into someone else’s sex life and marriage, because it draws eyeballs and brings the advertising dollars.
But it’s not just the news. The prejudice of the pundits and the population alike is to reframe a story to answer the same old questions about sex, which are basically, “Normal? Or Not Normal?” They want to discuss it only from the stance of applying unchallenged assumptions about what “Normal” is. It’s very hard to disrupt that dialogue. The only way I know is to keep refocusing on what matters.
And what matters to me is not what he does with his schwanz, but how he treats people. On that score, he fails the moral test.