The Past Indicates There May Still Be Hope for Anthony Weiner’s Career

Jun 8, 2011

By Ren LaForme, Political Columnist – June 8, 2011

A popular and charismatic young Democrat has admitted to engaging in “improper relationships” with women after being outed by a controversial right-wing blogger, an ethics investigation is underway, and now citizens, pundits and fellow politicians alike are wondering whether he should resign from public office.

The year is 1998, and the politician in question is President William Jefferson Clinton.

Somehow, it seems, the colossal amounts of publicity surrounding that famous scandal failed to reach some of Clinton’s peers, and the story has become somewhat of a trope in the past decade or so. New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, presidential candidate and former North Carolina Senator John Edwards, and now New York Rep. Anthony Weiner have all been caught engaging in extramarital relationships with women who were not their wives.

Weiner admitted on Monday that he had been involved in “a total of six inappropriate relationships over the past few years” using Twitter, other social networking sites and text messages. [1] This admission came to light when, a few weeks prior, a photograph of a man’s genital area covered up by briefs had appeared on the representative’s Twitter feed. Weiner initially stated that he had been “hacked” and that he had not posted the image. [2] Further scrutiny from CNN host Wolf Blitzer only raised more questions, as Weiner stated that he could not “say with certitude” that the pictures were not of him. [3]

On Monday morning, conservative blogger and publisher Andrew Breitbart posted a shirtless picture of the representative on his Big Government website, and stated that he had at least one much more revealing photo that he would not release. [4] Weiner held an emotional press conference later that evening and admitted that the photographs were indeed of him, that he had sent them to several women and lied to the press about it.

Weiner, a fiery, quick-speaking Brooklyite who represents New York’s 9th District, has seen a swift rise in notice in the past few years largely due to his embrace of social media and willingness to engage with right-wing talk show hosts and politicians. Prior to the incident, Weiner was an early frontrunner in the New York mayoral race that will take place in 2013 due to current Mayor Michael Bloomberg reaching his term limit. [5] Now, Weiner’s future as a politician is in jeopardy.

Weiner announced during his tearful press conference that he would not step down, pledging instead to stay and fight. Unfortunately for the representative, he may not find many allies willing to stand with him. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid suggested on Tuesday that Weiner should “call someone else” if he goes in search of advice. “I wish there was some way I can defend him, but I can’t,” Reid told the Washington Post. [6] Other Democrats were just as unsympathetic. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called for a formal investigation on Tuesday morning, while fellow N.Y. Rep. Steve Israel condemned Weiner’s “deep personal failure” and suggested that he should leave office.

Republicans, of course, have hit Weiner the hardest. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said, “I certainly don’t condone his activity” and called for Weiner’s resignation. [6] The chairman of the Republican National Committee made a similar declaration. [7]

But should Weiner resign? What bearing does a non-physical extramarital relationship have on his ability to lead? What does his future hold? One can look to his fellow fallen Democrats for answers.

In a comparison to the indiscretions of Clinton, Spitzer and Edwards, Weiner certainly stands to swallow the scrutiny on the most solid ground. Clinton initially lied about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky in a court of law and was held in contempt of court. He was fined $115,000 and was stripped of his license to practice law in Arkansas for five years. [8]

John Edwards cheated on his cancer-stricken wife during his 2008 presidential run and was indicted last month for using campaign money to hide his affair. [9] The former senator is facing six felony charges and could be sentenced to up to 30 years in prison and a $1.5 million fine.

Spitzer was caught patronizing a prostitution service. No charges were filed following his resignation in March of 2008. [10]

Of the three, Edwards is the only one who was fallen into wide disgrace in the public’s eye. Bill Clinton is currently more popular than ever, with one poll giving him a 55 percent approval rating and a 23 percent disapproval rating – the best ratio of any politician in the poll. [11] He was greeted with massive crowds during the 2008 election cycle and was credited with helping Obama win the presidency. Spitzer has returned to the limelight, hosting a television show on CNN and writing regular columns for Slate, the online news magazine. And, at least according to anecdotal evidence in one TIME article, he still maintains a decent amount of popularity in the New York City region. [12]

If two out of three politicians can come back from sex scandals – scandals in which they physically cheated on their wives – the odds look good that Weiner can pull off the same after a few bouts of “sexting”.

He did, however, lie to his peers, the public and the press. He may not choose to step down because of his actions, but he will likely pay the price for them in the voting booths. A poll conducted by Politico found that 46 percent of New Yorkers believe he should quit, while 41 percent believe he should stay. [13] Thirteen percent said they were unsure.

“I think his chances of running for Mayor are zero. It’s pretty simple,” said New York Magazine political columnist Chris Smith. [14] The Politico poll found that 56 percent of New Yorkers do not want Weiner to run for mayor. [13]

Still, when it comes to politics, time seems to erase certain transgressions in the minds of voters. With Clinton seeing record-high poll numbers, and with well-known cheaters like Newt Gingrich making viable runs for the presidential office, it seems that Weiner could very well be able to stage a comeback at some point in the future, though likely not the immediate future.

In any case, the sooner the media stops using his name to make bawdy puns, the better.