I was reading TNC’s take late last night – and his superb comments section at the Atlantic – and realized that my first post was missing something important.
It may well be gay confirmation bias that misled me a bit. The thing about most gay hook-up sites is that they are almost entirely anonymous fantasy platforms which may, in a very small percentage of actual exchanges, lead to, you know, sex. The same can be said about straight sites like OKCupid et al. Everyone is there for roughly the same reasons – varying from voyeurism to romance to sex – and everyone, apart from the ruthless Darwinism of sexual attractiveness, is on an even footing. It’s a form of erotic play, really, almost all of the time. The pay-off is, in many ways, not even the point. It is to enter a world of sexual titillation and distraction.
This, I now better understand, is not what Weiner was doing. For some reason, I missed this essential piece in the NYT about the nature of the chats and sexts. Weiner wasn’t on those sites; he was using Twitter and Facebook and texts. He sent pics to women who had not already consented to sex-talk:
Ms. Cordova, who had traded messages with Mr. Weiner, a New York Democrat, about their shared concern over his conservative critics, said she had never sent him anything provocative. Asked if she was taken aback by his decision to send the photo, she responded, “Oh gosh, yes.”
The whole piece – and its granular detail – shifted my perspective on this. I think he went past the line of “consenting horned-up adults” into a form of sexual aggression, the kind of guy who won’t leave you alone at a bar. He did so with known and usually much younger admirers, not strangers in a fantasy scenario. He went from casual conversation to dick pics in an instant. I should have more closely examined the details of the exchanges before filtering them through my gay frontal cortex.
Second, that disproportion of power between him and his interlocutors, while not illegal, is still creepily Clintonian.
That’s an ethical and moral judgment about a man’s character – and I sure don’t think Weiner should drop out of the race rather than let the voters make their decision. And in public life, these character judgments are by no means the only factor in assessing a politician (who are almost all, by definition, psychologically damaged in some way. Clinton was a very good president on policy – but he remains a self-centered, sociopathic prick of the first order. You can trade one aspect for the other in politics the way you wouldn’t in your personal life. But the reason I endorsed Dole in 1996 was my view that Clinton had proven himself incapable of the kind of self-control we need in a president. I thought and wrote that he was a walking scandal waiting to explode. That would have costs for the entire country. And I was right.
TNC also makes an important point about cruelty. When you ask forgiveness of followers, donors, voters and relatives, and they give it, you do not let them down a second time after absolution. TNC:
I believe that how you treat people matters. It is folly to embarrass your pregnant wife before an entire nation. To do the same thing again is cruelty.
I’m not sure what the details of the Abedin-Weiner marriage are so wouldn’t go that far with such certainty. But, yes, Weiner’s inability to stop after his first episode cannot be viewed entirely through the prism of his own human weakness. He’s not a private person, and he could have chosen to remain one while he still struggled with being human. He chose ambition even though it would almost certainly mean cruelty and embarrassment to others. I don’t want him to drop out; I don’t think his behavior is in any way as bad as Eliot Spitzer’s criminal hypocrisy or Mayor Bob Filner’s sexual harassment, or Bill Clinton’s endless lies and sexual abuse of women. But I wouldn’t vote for him.
There’s a place for sexting – when it’s totally consensual and adult, when you’re not embarrassing a spouse, and when you’re not actually running for a major public office.
(Photo: Anthony Weiner listens to a question from the media after courting voters outside a Harlem subway station a day after announcing he will enter the New York mayoral race on May 23, 2013 in New York City. By Mario Tama/Getty Images)