The New York Times ran an editorial this morning saying that Anthony Weiner should drop out because of the sexting thing. And in the middle of an otherwise sober enough (I guess) editorial, they drop this piece of WTF:
It’s difficult not to feel for Ms. Abedin. The couple deserved privacy as they worked through their problems — and they had it, until they re-emerged in public life and Mr. Weiner decided he was a good fit to run New York City. Mr. Weiner and Ms. Abedin have been saying that his sexual behavior is not the public’s business. Well, it isn’t, until they make it our business by plunging into a political campaign.
Wait, what was that? Let’s get that one more time in slow motion: “Mr. Weiner and Ms. Abedin have been saying that his sexual behavior is not the public’s business. Well, it isn’t, until they make it our business by plunging into a political campaign.”
Did it just get hypocritical in here? The New York Times is apparently saying that if you run for public office, your sex life is a matter of public interest. Please. What is a matter of public interest is a candidate’s political positions and his personal abilities to administrate those positions in a public office.
* I want to make clear that I still have very little idea what Anthony Weiner stands for. All I know is that he is a vaguely leftie Democrat from New York. This is not a political beef. This is about trying to stop the hypocrisy around sex.
The rest of the editorial is strong enough, I guess, arguing that Weiner’s pattern of lying and evasion blah blah blah. And yes, yes, I get that this doesn’t exactly make him look like Mr. Trustworthy, and anyone voting for him should seriously consider that. But I have a certain understanding for his problem. He is a skilled politician realising that the price of admission for being in the kind of public office at the level he is used to running it is that his private life ceases being private, that he needs to be publicly shamed and that his already-fraught marriage gets caught in the tension. I understood perfectly why Bill Clinton lied, and I understand why Anthony Weiner might have bent the truth.*
And there’s the real rub. If he was actually willing to barter for his sex chats in real political or economic favours, it’s a matter of public record. That’s the part that should be addressed and explained in full by the candidate. There wasn’t a single question about it in the press conference. And I know, I watched the whole thing.
So as for asking him to drop out, the NYT is, in the end really just being moralistic and high-handed. There are two simple tests of trust that Anthony Weiner can pass that makes the NYT’s recommendation unnecessary. One is whether he has the trust of his wife, Ms. Abedin. He passed that one already, as far as we can tell (there may be some backroom deal we don’t know of). The second is the test of a public election. If he doesn’t have the public’s trust, well, we’ll have some pretty reliable numbers on how little trust he has.
Update: I see that Andrew Sullivan is making basically the same point I am, but with a way better title: “Breaking: Man Gets Off Online“. And better writing, obviously.
On the question of lying, the NYT’s harrumph this morning is a valid one. Once a politician has deceived people, he gets a second chance. When he deceives them a second time on the same issue, he loses whatever public trust he might have hoped for.
But I see no reason why that trust should not be tested where it should be: at the ballot box. Weiner should not, er, withdraw prematurely. He should do us all a favor, if his wife agrees, and plow on until we can all smoke a collective cigarette. In this new Internet Age someone has to be the person who makes sexting not an excludable characteristic for public office. If it becomes one, then the range of representatives we can choose from in the future and present will be very, very different in experience and background than the people they are supposed to represent.