June 16, 2011

Anthony Weiner And The Social Contract

Bob and I have dedicated a reasonable amount of pixels to the continuing story of Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY). Deciding whether to cover such stories is always somewhat difficult. On one hand, a great many people have done, and likely are doing, the sorts of things Rep. Weiner did, and worse. We’re not covering those people and likely never will.

Therein lies the most compelling reason to cover Rep. Weiner. Not because he is a Democrat and this is a Conservative blog; not because his behavior is particularly salacious and therefore likely to increase readership; not because of his photos (we have not published those and likely never would; doctors and police officers know one great truth: most people look better with their clothing on); and certainly not because everyone else is covering it—we like to cover things others don’t think to cover. We cover Rep. Weiner because some people, by their own choice, place themselves in positions of public trust.

I know what you’re thinking: Trust?! Trust politicians?! There is no doubt that many—Republican and Democrat alike—are not worthy of trust. But the simple truth is that most are worthy of trust, to at least some degree. It is tempting indeed to believe that all politicians are liars, cheats and thieves, and sadly, there are good reasons to be so cynical. Lily Tomlin was very much on the mark when she said that no matter how cynical she got, she couldn’t keep up.

The modern era of political cynicism might be said to have started during the Clinton Administration. A great many politicians—some of them Presidents—prior to Clinton engaged in sexual adventurism, but Mr. Clinton introduced many innovations, including taking phone calls from Congressmen while receiving fellatio. He also told perhaps the most memorable political lie of the digital age, angrily shaking his finger in America’s face through the camera lens while intoning that he did not have sex with Monica Lewinsky. Of course, he did, and compounded the lie by more lying. He was impeached (only the second President in history) but not convicted, was eventually convicted of perjury and lost his law license, but retained his office. The Clinton era came to a fitting close when his staffers vandalized the White House on their way out the door and the Clintons stole substantial White House furnishings, which they were eventually forced to return.

Now, we are saddled with a President and a Congress that forces through, without a single Republican vote, the most massive, anti-freedom legislation in history, legislation that the majority of Americans did not want and still do not want, legislation that by itself will bankrupt the nation. Mr. Obama insults our allies, appeases our enemies, makes the Middle East less rather than more safe, single-handedly destroyed the Israeli/Palestinian peace process, conducts the most opaque administration in memory while claiming to run the most transparent, claims that we will be able to keep our current insurance knowing it to be a lie, claims to be for universal energy development while doing everything possible to impede it, and the list goes on and on and on.

Why shouldn’t we embrace cynicism? Why should we care anymore?

Democracy requires trust. America is a nation built on trust. Americans have always believed that a man’s word is his bond, and built cities and made fortunes on the strength of a handshake. We have to believe, if we are willing to walk out our front doors every day and deal with the world, that others are, for the most part, trustworthy. We must believe that most Americans embrace the social contract, that they will voluntarily obey the law, that they will practice sincerity and honesty, and that they will not purposely seek to harm others. We must know that our rights to property, and all of the rights expressed and implied by the Bill of Rights are essentially intact. When a sufficient number of Americans cease to believe in these principles, when they cease to embrace the uniquely American social contract, America is lost.

That’s why we have to force ourselves to care about people like Anthony Weiner. He chose to place himself in a position of public trust, and by that choice, he accepted his part in the social contract, just as I have, on many occasions in my life, accepted places in the social contract that in very real ways set me apart from most Americans. When I enlisted in the Air Force, I accepted limitations on my freedoms and the reality that I would be held to a substantially higher standard of behavior than most Americans. When I became a police officer, I did the same, and I did it yet again when I became a teacher. Even as I write this essay, by the nature of my employment as a teacher, I willingly submit to the reality that I must abide by a more stringent code of conduct than most of my fellow Americans. The same is true of doctors, librarians, many other professions and trades, and yes, politicians.

There are simply things that Congressmen—and others—cannot do and retain their positions of public trust. We all can agree that when they break the law, when they misuse their positions for personal aggrandizement or gain or when they wrongfully enable the personal gain of others, they are unworthy of their office. But there are a great many other things that, while not specifically illegal, they simply cannot do. They cannot do them because they are morally, practically wrong, because they reveal serious character flaws, because they demonstrate appallingly bad judgment, because they demonstrate that they cannot be trusted, that their handshake means nothing and that their words and smiles are as likely than not to hide deception.

There are many who argued that if Rep. Weiner had simply told the truth his admission would have been sufficient. He should have been allowed to keep his office. Imagine the red faces of those folks after the continuing, and ever more tawdry, revelations that have, to date, come to light (yes, I know that some people are beyond embarrassment and shame). Others have suggested that no matter what he did, he should stay in office because of his political utility to the Democrat party. Some have even suggested that a double standard exists, that the public expects far less of Democrats than Republicans particularly where moral issues are involved, and there is evidence to suggest that this is not an unreasonable belief.

But all of this, too, misses the point. Rep. Weiner violated the social contract, a contract that demanded more of him than of Joe Average American, a contract that he willingly sought through multiple elections and willingly accepted. If America is to rebound from our current difficulties, if America is to remain the one unique, indispensable nation, we must demand that all those with whom we deal are trustworthy, and we must be trustworthy ourselves. Political affiliation has nothing to do with this despite what some might say. Trust transcends political lines. If it does not, if it cannot, America is lost and all that we will do over the next few years is to play predetermined parts in a tragedy written by our apathy, by our own inability to believe in ourselves and in our ability to truly embody America. We have no choice but to demand that our politicians honor, defend and protect the social contract, and of course, the Constitution.

Anthony Weiner has finally resigned. I will be relieved and pleased if I never again write a word about Anthony Weiner. The social contract is still intact, though never free from the forces that would rip it asunder. No man of good will takes pleasure in the misery of others, yet only a fool fails to learn from the willful, serial mistakes of others.

One of the truisms I tell my students over and over again is that times change, but people don’t. Hubris—excessive pride—brought down the privileged and mighty in ancient Greece and it does no less today. Arrogance, narcissism, lying, mistreating others, all of the things Mother warned us about, have never stopped being destructive, yet too many never seem to change.

Perhaps the most important lesson we can learn from the Weiner affair (and note how it is almost impossible to speak of this tawdry episode without inadvertently punning or writing a double entendre; God does indeed have a sense of humor) is that politicians—and many other Americans—must be held to a higher standard of behavior, for it is they that have chosen to inhabit the highest levels of moral certitude, and we do no credit to ourselves or to them when we allow them to abuse the example they have sought and accepted. We really do owe it to ourselves. We owe it to America.

Posted by MikeM at June 16, 2011 10:51 PM

In a perfect world, I would agree with you. However, in the interest of fairness, I don't think Weiner should have, or been forced to, resign. If Clinton was allowed to remain in office despite the far graver offense of perjury (talk about lack of trust!!) as well as more serious sexual deviations for the 'social contract' of far more dubious legality, then it's ridiculous for Weiner to resign. Had he been somewhat more 'likeable' the democrats would have rallied around him.

Additionally, Rangel and Waters are still around vice their offenses. Pelosi did the 'family and friends fly USAF' at the cost of millions (and loss of acft mission time for reserved but unused acft) without repercussions. Then we have Barney (my home was a gay bordello but I didn't have a clue)Frank whose exercises in crony capitalism and social justice at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac cost us 317 Billion and directly contribute to the housing bubble and economic meltdown. With those clowns sticking around, frankly getting rid of Weiner makes no sense.

Posted by: styrgwillidar at June 17, 2011 10:52 AM


Isn't it ludicrous--as a comment on the neronian nature of many of our public leaders--that one can even advance such an argument on behalf of Weiner? This is not against you, for strictly speaking others have done far worse with more damage then he. He simply combined a nasty personality with easily exposed lies that eventually embroiled others more powerful than he. He is for Obama and Pelosi a convenient sacrifice, something dirty easily disposed of to satisfy public outrage. However, it is like saying let us not send this murderer to prison for he killed only one person, while another who killed ten did not. You avoid confronting all that is rotten and evil.

Posted by: Humbert at June 17, 2011 11:18 AM

A good friend and fellow businessperson once told me that, in any endeavor involving the public, each person should conduct his personal behavior so as to be beyond reproach.

Life involves choices and -- despite the protestations of some -- these choices are of a moral nature. One of the underlying reasons our nation has declined has been a lessening of the moral standards that once guided our citizenry. As John Adams said: "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."

Moral laws are not violated without penalty. A more contemporary saying sums it up: "What goes around comes around." Mr. Weiner has had his rendezvous with the wages of immorality. To think that the rest of us will be ultimately immune from such a fate is true folly.

Posted by: Just Sayin' at June 17, 2011 12:53 PM


I completely I agree. I do find Weiner's conduct indefensible for a public figure. If I controlled the criteria for resigning he would be on the list, but there would be others ahead of him.

Posted by: styrgwillidar at June 17, 2011 05:50 PM

Think of the fact that this trash is what wants to take over our lives and tell us what to do at a micro level. That is the problem. Maybe if they got out of our lives, quit trying to destroy our business, quit trying to take our wealth, then we would really not care about that indiscretions. As it is, we need to get rid of these people anyway we can.

Posted by: david7134 at June 19, 2011 03:00 PM

Vote the new Weiner/Holder (eric) ticket in 2012

Posted by: Craig at June 21, 2011 03:11 PM