Thursday, June 16, 2011

OK for Some

I think what most surprises me about this whole Anthony Weiner sexting scandal is how much press it's generated. There have been a lot of scandals in DC over the last decade, yet I don't recall any scandal since Clinton getting this much attention for this long. Why? Yes, I know, he sent salacious messages and some dirty pics to a few women he met via his Twitter and Facebook feeds. Yes, as a married man, this was wrong. But . . . I still don't see the fuel for this perpetual media machine. I suppose the highly partisan climate of the last three years is part of it. That's obviously behind the vocal, and quite hypocritical calls for Weiner to resign. I say hypocritical because there wasn't, and still isn't, much concern over Senator David Vitter's own scandal involving his frequenting the 'DC Madame'. One report I heard said that there was a record of a call by Vitter from the floor of the Senate during a vote! What makes it worse, in my estimation, is that he's another of those holier-than-though Republicans who constantly talks up the sanctity of marriage. Call me old fashioned, but I think a married, 'family values' Senator frequenting prostitutes is a bit more damning than sending a picture of your privates to a woman you've been flirting with online. Neither will win you any awards, but the latter has the distinct saving grace of not being illegal. And yet, Vitter is still a Senator and none of his Republican colleagues, so enraged by Weiner's indiscretion, have uttered a peep against him. Curious, eh?

I really do wonder how much of this is due to the 'ew' factor. Is it mostly because so many are shocked at the whole social networking angle of Weiners scandal? I think some people are just weirded out by the online affair aspect. Would there be as much attention if he had just been caught schtupping a member of his staff? I seriously doubt it. Especially considering how quickly the airwaves went deaf to the John Ensign scandal. Don't recall that? Let me refresh your memory. Senator Ensign only recently resigned from office, and rather suddenly at that. As luck would have it, his last day in office was the day before he was set to testify in front of the Senate Ethics Committee to face questions of not just his infidelities with a married staffer, but also the allegedly illegal ways he went about trying to keep it secret. Including violating lobbying laws to get the husband of the woman he was sleeping with, also a staffer and family friend, a lobbying gig after Ensign canned them both. (That's class, isn't it? Caught sleeping with a staffer so you fire her and her husband!) And let's not forget the roughly $90,000 he talked his wealthy parents into giving to his lover and her husband to sweep the whole thing under the rug. The Ethics Committee had so much evidence that, even after Ensign skipped out of the Senate, they still handed it all off to the Justice Department and the Federal Election Commission for consideration of criminal charges. Now, call me partisan, but that's more than just a case of infidelity!

The problem, as I see it, is that we have never had an actual guide to go by when gauging the severity of personal indiscretions by politicians. It's always been a crap shoot. Often the deciding factor had more to do with the persons position, power and friends than what was actually done. My own personal yardstick starts with the most obvious question; were laws broken? Considering that we are talking about the people who draw up laws for the rest of us, it's only fair to expect them to be held to the same rules of conduct as the rest of the nation. Next would come professional ethics, such as the rules of the House and Senate. These I'm a little more flexible on, as some are obviously more trivial than others. But there's no question that getting down and dirty with your lover in your Capital Hill office would edge across the line into unacceptable behavior for a member of Congress. But a 10 minutes phone call from that same office or an email from a private account is more of a gray area. After all, most places of business recognize your right to an occasional few minutes of personal time. That doesn't mean anything goes, but there's more leeway there. It gets extremely gray after that, since much of the outrage seems to boil down to what each individual finds personally offensive and that's the very definition of subjective! What we most need, however, is consistency! Set some rules for behavior. Lay out what is your personal life and what is unarguably a professional matter. Personal mistakes in judgement may not say good things about you, but in the end, they are just that, personal. It's only when you cross the line into professional behavior that it becomes more than just a tabloid sensation.

Probably the biggest issue used to beat up Congressman Weiner is one that is the same for all of these scandals; lying. Once you get past the purely political criticisms and the disgust from those who can't get past the basic idea of sending anatomical pictures over the internet, you are left with this one complaint. For 10 days he stood in front of the cameras and lied about not sending the picture that had just gone public. He always hedged on the question of whether the picture was of him or not, which did stand out as a bit odd at the time. But should we really be surprised that he lied about it? And does a lie about a highly personal matter mean you are generally untrustworthy? Some would certainly hold the line and say that the lie means he can never be trusted again. I disagree. We all lie. Some of us are better than others about it, but we all lie occasionally. The two times we are most likely to lie are to protect someone, either physically or emotionally, and when we are protecting ourselves from personal embarrassment. And the more acute and potentially damaging that embarrassment, the more likely we are to lie. All of us. We may pretend we are pinnacles of virtue, but very few of us can truly claim innocence. And when all is said and done, if there is one place I would expect someone to lie, it's when a room full of reporters asks you if you sent a photo of your obviously happy johnson attempting to escape your underwear. I don't think that means you can never be trusted. I think that makes you human. That lie may be wrong, but it doesn't mean that same person will be any more likely to lie about a policy position than another politician. Believe me, I'd consider a law ejecting elected officials for documented lies! This would also have the added benefit of making term limits redundant by guaranteeing constant turnover in the houses of Congress.

As I write this, reports are trickling out that Congressman Weiner is resigning. On one level, it's certainly his choice what's best for him and his wife. On another level, I'm a bit ticked. I feel like he was forced into this, not because it was a heinous act, but because the nature of it made people uncomfortable and it was politically expedient for the Democrats to sacrifice him. By allowing and in fact enabling Weiner's critics the Democrats have once again capitulated to Republicans and validated their rampant hypocrisy. They could have at least put full pressure on Vitter to do the same! But I suppose Rachel Maddow was right, as she put it in one of her segments, I guess 'it's all right if you're a Republican'.

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