Politics, et Cetera
A publication from The Political Forum, LLC
Tuesday, July 30, 2013
They Said It:
While there were other spins, such as a long Newsday story that told “a political parable” of Bill Clinton cast as Jesus persecuted by the Republican Pharisees, the media, more typically, took FDR’s tack: “He may be an S.O.B., but he’s our S.O.B.”
The analogy with Shakespeare’s Coriolanus is apt, except of course that he was a genuine hero. Like Coriolanus, Clinton contemptuously manipulated the hoi polloi: “I will practice the insinuating nod, and be off to them most counterfeitly; that is, sir, I will counterfeit the bewitchment of some popular man, and give it bountiful to the desirers” (Act II, iii). From 1992 on, the reporters were in on the game; they saw the wink and the nudge, and entertained one another with the feats of their man, “Slick Willy.” Then, quite abruptly, in January 1998, they became the game. He was dealing with them most counterfeitly, and they were furious. Not furious enough, however, to abandon their S.O.B. Not all were prepared to go so far as Nina Burleigh of Time magazine. “I’d be happy,” she said, “to give him [oral sex] just to thank him for keeping abortion legal.” But most were prepared to circle the wagons against the attacking neo-Puritans, while letting Clinton know in no uncertain terms that they were not at all happy about his forcing them to defend the indefensible.
Father Richard John Neuhaus, “Bill Clinton and the American Character,” First Things, June/July 1999.
CHARACTER, JUDGMENT, AND CARLOS DANGER.
Have you heard? It is NOW time for Anthony Weiner – the erstwhile Congressman and wannabe Mayor of New York – to go away. We know this because David Axelrod, Barack Obama’s political sage, told us so. “I haven’t really commented on this because Huma is a friend of mine, his wife, and I deeply respect her,” Axelrod said the other day on “Meet the Press,” “but at this point, it’s absurd. He is not going to be the next mayor of New York.”
Aha. We see. It’s absurd. “At this point.”
As it turns out, Axelrod isn’t alone in thinking that Weiner has now – and only now – gone too far. Also over the weekend, Weiner’s campaign manager, Danny Kedem, quit the campaign, apparently only recently coming to the conclusion that his now-former boss, known online as Carlos Danger, is somehow not suited for office. We wonder what pushed him over the edge?
In any case, as the New York Post noted, despite the loss of his manager, “Weiner stood firm” and spent “much of the day in his apartment shooting a campaign ad.” We just have one little question: who, pray tell, was manning the camera? Was it hired out this time, or did Carlos himself take the shots, as is his wont?
Wait. On second thought, we don’t want to know.
Of course, this entire affair is both bizarre and yet perfectly fitting. Boys will be boys. Weiners will be Weiners. And many Democrats, it seems, will vote for anyone.
As you may recall, two years ago, the very same Anthony Weiner, a young, obnoxious protégé of the not-so-young but still obnoxious Senator Chuck Schumer, left his Congressional office in disgrace after a comically grotesque series of events. We put it this way at the time:
Democratic Congressman and notoriously self-obsessed media hound Anthony Weiner of New York, whose district covers parts of Queens and Brooklyn, “allegedly” sent a picture of his . . . ummm . . . “namesake,” – little Anthony Weiner – via Twitter, to a 21-year-old college student in the Seattle, Washington area. Short story short: Weiner initially claimed he was the victim of hacking; then claimed to be a victim of a prank; then he admitted that he couldn’t say with “certitude” whether the little member of Congress in the photo was or wasn’t him.
By the end of the week, Weiner had resorted to using strategies from the Democratic Politicians’ Sex Scandal Handbook, which his wife, a longtime aide to Hillary Clinton, had apparently brought home from the ofﬁce. The whole thing, he claimed, was nothing more than a silly “distraction” that was keeping him from “getting back to the work of serving his constituents.” As we go to press, he has confessed to all wrongdoing and said he is sorry.
After that, of course, Weiner went off to “rehab,” as has become customary these days. When he returned, he spent “more time with his family.” He cuddled up closely to his dearest wife every night and began planning what to do with the rest of his life. And naturally, he again started sending pictures of his personal business to other barely legal women all over the country. Honestly, what did you expect he’d do? He is what he is.
It’s weird, though, that despite this truly twisted tale, Alexrod and Kedem are only now professing to have come to the conclusion that Weiner must pull out. And what is even weirder is that when the the political “experts” – people like Axelrod and Kedem, to name two – said that they really and truly believed that Weiner had cleaned up his act, that was he was a changed man, a new and improved Weiner, if you will, the mainstream media bought into it, hook, line, and sinker. Indeed, right up until last week, nearly everyone in the political mainstream agreed that Weiner truly deserved another chance to prove to the people of New York that he could be trusted with their city, despite the fact that he couldn’t trusted with his own cell phone.
Not that anyone should be surprised. Our ruling class – media and political experts all – tend to remind us of the children in story of the Pied Piper of Hamlen. They gladly tag along wherever the piper leads, hoping only for the opportunity to demonstrate their brilliance – or toughness or empathy or . . . whatever – by waxing eloquent about the “meaning” of it all.
Take, for example, the case Dana Milbank, the Washington Post’s current purveyor-in-chief of conventional wisdom. Over the weekend, Milbank took to the pages of the Post to complain about the self-absorption and corruption of many of the politicians in America. Rather than merely excoriate Weiner, though, Milbank tried to make a broader point about contemporary politics by lumping Weiner and Virginia’s Republican Governor Bob McDonnell together in the same category of debauched officials. He put it this way:
Most news accounts treated these as two separate scandals: Anthony Weiner, the disgraced Democratic congressman and would-be mayor of New York, had been exposed again as a digital flasher, sending “selfie” pictures of his privates to women. Bob McDonnell, the Republican governor of Virginia, was found to be taking gifts and loans from a businessman McDonnell had helped.
Their offenses — particularly their responses upon being caught — are much the same.
By coincidence, both men found themselves apologizing for their misdeeds on the same day, July 23, McDonnell’s was cowardly, done via Twitter while he was out of the country; Weiner’s was handled in yet another bizarre news conference. But both were reluctant, their statements less expressions of contrition than naked efforts to make the problems go away. These were the apologies of narcissists . . .
Both men seem to have the condition that afflicts so many officeholders who get into trouble, from Clinton to Foley to Sanford to Spitzer: a sense of invincibility, and a belief that the usual rules don’t apply to them.
On the one hand, Milbank is right. Both scandals are, indeed, about narcissism. Neither man thinks the rules apply to him, and neither expected to get caught anyway. Of course, that’s a generally insipid point, one that countless others (including your humble correspondents) have made about countless other politicians countless times before. Politicians are narcissistic. They are foolish risk takers. They play by their own rules. Etc., etc. ad nasuseam.
On the other hand, the notion that what Weiner did and what McDonnell did are even comparable, much less “the same” is patently absurd. For starters, while McDonnell’s actions were indefensible, they were, nonetheless, rather unremarkable. Indeed, his corruption was of a fairly common variety. He got greedy. And he threw away his career as a result. Good riddance.
As for Weiner, well . . . what do you say about a guy like that? “Creepy” doesn’t really seem to do it justice. In fact, the only thing that we’ve read that DOES seem to do it justice is this little bit by the screenwriter and author Roger L. Simon:
When I was a kid growing up in fifties Manhattan, if my mother had told me there would be a flasher running for mayor of New York, my mouth would have dropped open. Flashers were those guys I was supposed to run away from in Central Park.
But now we have Anthony Weiner, a flasher of the Internet sort, who exposes himself to random women online, before and after having apologized publicly for it, actually (as of this writing) still campaigning for mayor of our biggest city and financial center.
Weiner is no mere adulterer as described by Flaubert, Tolstoy and thousands of lesser writers. Or even a compulsive womanizer à la Bill Clinton. He is a genuine weirdo, straight out of the pages of Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis, the kind that really do jump out of the bushes in public parks.
But unlike McDonnell, it is not at all clear that Weiner’s political career is over. Maybe it is. Certainly it should be. But then, it should have been over two years ago. But does anyone really believe that he’s done, that he’ll go away, that his enabler/facilitator wife will go away as well?
For us, the key bit in this present flare-up of what National Review’s Richard Brookheiser has labeled the Weinerdammerung, was found in a Facebook post by the current object of Weiner’s affections, a young self-proclaimed progressive activist named Sydney Leathers. As several media outlets reported, Ms. Leathers wrote: “Rep. Weiner can continue sending d*ck pics every single day for the rest of his life as long as he continues to legislate like he does.”
Now, if you’re anything like us, when you read something like that, you think: “Wow! Is she really going to steal Nina Burleigh’s material and not even give her credit?”
Who is Nina Burleigh, you ask? Well, she’s the author and journalist who, back when she was working for Time magazine during the mid-1990’s, declared that “I’d be happy to give him [Bill Clinton] [oral sex] just to thank him for keeping abortion legal.” Now, in normal times, we’d start by mocking the White House correspondent for the nation’s biggest news magazine for believing that presidential politics is the reason that abortion is legal. But, as we say nearly every week, these are hardly normal times. Our point here is that Nina Burleigh merely put into words what most of the ruling class already believed by the time Bill Clinton was president, namely that adherence to the conventional moral standards and conventional notions of propriety are no longer requisites for public office. And Sydney Leathers merely reinforced that point for a new generation.
As you may or may not recall, back in 2011, in the aftermath of Weinergate I, the alleged comedienne Janeane Garofalo made the very same point, only she made it more bluntly:
Anthony Weiner deserves to be supported and hopefully he will be mayor of New York one day. I’m serious. He is a Democrat [who] actually ﬁghts for the things liberals and progressive and rational people care about.
I don’t know why he’s being thrown under the bus. He hasn’t done any – he hasn’t broke (sic) any laws . . .
When Garofalo spoke these words – which is to say in heady days before the birth of Carlos Danger – we took them as yet another sign that the feminist movement had sold its soul for abortion on demand. Garofalo confirmed for us that there was really and truly nothing that a male politician could do that would earn him the ire of the “feminists,” as long as he remained adamantly pro-Choice. It didn’t matter how poorly he treated women or how ugly his behavior toward them. If his NARAL scorecard made him a reliable abortion ally, he could get away with anything. And that, we argued, was the ultimate impact of abortion on the so-called women’s movement.
We now think that perhaps this assessment was too cursory, too shallow. You see, the implication of this contention was that people like Garofalo tolerate repulsive and corrupt behavior because the individual shares their belief about the sanctity, or lack thereof, of life. But, it is increasingly clear that the repulsive and corrupt behavior is not tolerated but applauded every bit as much as the individual’s position on “choice,” and possibly even more so.
As we have written countless times in these pages over the last couple of decades, there is a war of sorts taking place in American politics, a war between competing and incompatible moral systems. And any behavior that offends the established, Judeo-Christian order – particularly sexual behavior – is cheered as a powerful, transgressive blow against the uptight and oppressive “prudes” who use words like “values,” “truth,” and “justice” to maintain power and keep “the other” down.
Notice, if you will, that in her 2011 defense of Weiner, Garofalo started to say that he did nothing wrong. She caught herself, though, and changed course, arguing instead that he “broke no laws,” perhaps believing that a mainstream television audience might not yet be ready to accept that there’s “nothing wrong” with married Congressmen sending pictures of their private parts to barely legal co-eds. Today there would be no need to make this distinction.
You see, as contemptible as Weiner is, he is far from being the only morally “enlightened” politician who is openly challenging the nation’s traditional moral code. Indeed, he is far from being the only sexual deviant to challenge that code in this fall’s local New York elections.
Recall that Eliot Spitzer, the former governor of New York once known to vice squad investigators as “Client #9”, is running for city comptroller. As with Weiner, he left his former office in disgrace after his sexual peculiarities became known. In Spitzer’s case, of course, he was putting prostitutes away by day (as Attorney General and then governor) and patronizing them by night. Not surprisingly, he contends that such a minor transgression should not keep him from office. And in today’s Democratic Party, he may be right.
And it’s not just happening in New York. On the other side of the country, in sunny southern California, a man named Bob Filner is also working the system. Filner, as you may know, is the Democratic mayor of San Diego and a former Congressman. He is also, apparently, a serial sexual harasser, a man who has, it seems, sexually harassed nearly every woman on the West Coast. Last week, Filner – again, as has become customary – took a hiatus from his job to seek “intensive therapy.” We weren’t aware that there is therapy available for vile-creepy-misogyny, but then, that just shows you how little we know about the murky world that progressives inhabit.
The thing that most intrigues us about Filner’s story, though, is that his behavior was, essentially, an open secret – before he was elected. Like Weiner . . . and Spitzer . . . and Bill Clinton before him, everyone apparently knew Filner was a lecher, but no one thought that that should disqualify him from public office. As the Voice of San Diego reported last week:
The local Democratic Party has known for a long time about sexual harassment allegations against Bob Filner, a former Democratic assemblywoman said in a Thursday interview. “I blew the whistle on this two years ago to the Democratic Party leadership,” former Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña said.
Saldaña said that in summer 2011 six prominent women in local politics, business and education told her that Filner had physically or verbally harassed them. Saldaña had been exploring what turned out to be an unsuccessful bid for Congress and the conversations came in the context of the 2012 elections.
Saldaña said she contacted former party Chairman Jess Durfee with the allegations and Durfee was among a group of Democratic leaders who met with Filner to discuss them that summer. She said nothing happened. “As disgraceful as Bob’s behavior has been, it’s been tolerated by our Democratic Party leadership,” she said . . .
Party leaders, she said, made it clear that if people didn’t support Filner they wouldn’t receive their support again.
The pathetic thing about all of this is that Saldaña herself endorsed Filner. “After 20 years of Republican misrule at City Hall,” Saldaña said in her endorsement announcement, “it’s time for a change. Bob Filner offers the best chance for a break from the past.” Filner, you see, believed the right things and supported the right polices, or, as Janeane Garofalo might say, he actually fought “for the things liberals and progressive and rational people care about.”
Over the weekend, Peter Beinart, the former editor of The New Republic and a current columnist for the Daily Beast (formerly Newsweek), wrote that Weiner should stay in the race for mayor and, moreover, that those calling for him were doing a disservice to democracy. Specifically, he wrote:
To understand the disproportionate response to Weiner’s misdeeds, remember that The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the New York Daily News are not merely counseling voters to select one of Weiner’s rivals. They’re trying to pressure Weiner from the race, thus denying voters the choice. That’s highly undemocratic, especially when, according to polls, Weiner enjoys substantial public support. And it’s something newspapers rarely do, even when candidates commit graver misdeeds . . .
“Mr. Weiner is not a normal human being,” sneered the Journal in its editorial demanding he drop out. If only it were that simple. Was Franklin Roosevelt normal? He began an affair with Eleanor’s social secretary, Lucy Mercer, was caught, and pledged to remain faithful, then took up with Mercer again, even though she was now married and he was president. His daughter helped him conceal the continued infidelity from her own mother, and it was Mercer, not the president’s wife, who was with FDR when he died. Was John F. Kennedy normal? He allegedly invited prostitutes to swim in the White House pool. Among the various women with whom he slept as president was Judith Exner, who was simultaneously sleeping with the most powerful mobster in Chicago. Was Lyndon Johnson normal? Fellow members of Congress commented with alarm on his habit of waving his penis in their direction in Capitol bathrooms while commenting proudly on its size. In mixed company, he sometimes pulled down his pants to scratch his rear end. “None of the body parts customarily referred to as private were private when the parts were Lyndon Johnson’s,” wrote Robert Caro.
I’m not excusing this. It’s to feminism’s credit that we’re now less tolerant of powerful men behaving badly.
It seems to us that Mr. Beinart has two problems here. First, he argues that pushing Weiner out of the race is “undemocratic.” Well . . . maybe. But, and not to be pedantic, we don’t actually live in a “democracy.” We live in a republic, a polity in which institutions temper the passions of the people. And as the First Amendment to this republic’s constitution makes clear, the press was considered by the Founders to be one of the most important and vital of these institutions, particularly with respect to checking the behavior of otherwise wayward officials. The First Continental Congress put it this way in its 1774 “Appeal to the Inhabitants of Quebec”:
The last right we shall mention regards the freedom of the press. The importance of this consists, besides the advancement of truth, science, morality, and arts in general, in its diffusion of liberal sentiments on the administration of Government, its ready communication of thoughts between subjects, and its consequential promotion of union among them, whereby oppressive officers are shamed or intimidated into more honorable and just modes of conducting affairs.
The second problem that Beinart has is that the rest of his argument is pure gibberish. He claims that Roosevelt, Kennedy, and Johnson – among others – were sick puppies too, but that no one cared, no one dared to label them “not normal.” He couldn’t have the argument more bassackwards if he tried.
Roosevelt, Kennedy, and Johnson survived politically in spite of their sexual appetites not because no one cared, but because the members of the mainstream press cared too much, which is to say that they covered for them because they knew that the public would find their actions to be repulsive. We addressed this issue 15 years ago in a February 1998 piece entitled, “Waking the Sleeping Giant.” To wit:
Well, we believe that Bill’s continued popularity, despite what were once almost universally considered “character ﬂaws,” cannot be properly understood unless it is viewed as one of the fruits of a highly successful, 35-year-long assault on America’s traditional moral and ethical standards and on its traditional customs and mores . . .
It has become accepted wisdom among the talking heads on television that Bill’s situation is analogous to that of Jack Kennedy, who was also known to be promiscuous. What’s the big deal, they ask? The public didn’t care then and it doesn’t care today. Nothing has changed. But that is hogwash. As Father John Neuhaus pointed out in the March 1997 issue of First Things, “a sympathetic press hushed up John F. Kennedy’s womanizing precisely because it was assumed that, were it known, it would be politically deadly.”
Beinart maintains that “It’s to feminism’s credit that we’re now less tolerant of powerful men behaving badly.” This is nonsense. As the late Father Richard John Neuhaus noted, we are actually far more tolerant of sexual deviancy these days, as was first evidenced by the public’s relative indifference Clinton’s sexual activities in the Oval Office with a girl almost as young as daughter in the Oval Office.
It could be argued, of course, that this is no big deal since this kind of stuff has been going on behind the scenes in governing bodies since the earliest recorded history; that it is merely a sign that society is “growing up.” But that too would be nonsense. The fact is that this greater tolerance among the public for unconventional sexual activities among politicians has, quite naturally, led to a greater tolerance for other human frailties among the ruling class, ranging from corruption to sloth to perjury. Yes, perjury.
The inimitable Mark Steyn put it like this in a radio interview with Hugh Hewitt two years ago, during Weinergate I:
I’m depressed by what I call the naive cynics. What I mean by that is people who think they are worldly and sophisticated and are just in fact patsies and rubes, the sort of people who say oh well everybody does it. This is just a purely private sexual matter — you uptight squares need to grow up about this stuff. No, actually. That’s not the way it works. Sexual corruption in a political culture is usually the tip of a much broader culture of corruption. France is a very good example of that by the way, and I think it’s particularly – I think it’s not good enough for Anthony Weiner to say well look none of these girls were 17 and three-quarters. They were at least 3 days past their 18th birthday. I don’t think that’s what it is about. This guy was in line to become the next mayor of New York up until last Sunday or whenever it was. Elliott Spitzer actually made it to Governor of New York. John Edwards was in line to become Vice President of the United States. Dominick Strauss-Kahn was in line to be President of France.
If you doubt Steyn’s admonition, consider, more thoroughly, the case of the Clintons. Everybody remembers Bill’s sexual escapades. But rarely any longer does anyone mention the fact that he and his Arkansas crew were up to their eyeballs in all sorts of political deviousness. Monica Lewinsky, of course, came long after Whitewater, and Travelgate, and Filegate, and all the rest. Sure, the sex-capades were front and center, partly because sex sells, but partly because it also distracted from the more serious corruption. Two months ago, in a piece titled “Character, Where Art Thou? Surely not in Washington,” we summarized just a bit of the baggage that has long been forgotten about the woman who may well be the next President of these here United States. To wit:
For those who may not remember, the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is also the former Senator Hillary Clinton and the former First Lady Hillary Clinton, which is to say that this isn’t her first rodeo either. Indeed, she’s been riding the circuit for so long that she may have stepped in and dished out more BS than anyone else in Washington.
This, you may recall, is the same woman who saved her husband’s political career and his run at the presidency by lying on CBS’s “60 Minutes” about Gennifer Flowers and Bill’s long-term affair with her. This, you may recall, is the same woman who brought her Rose Law Firm cronies to Washington, only to see them disgrace themselves and their country in a variety of ways. This, you may recall, is the same woman who engineered the firing and smearing of Billy Dale, the head of the White House travel office, who was accused but never convicted of embezzlement and who was replaced in the White House by World Wide Travel, a Little Rock group with ties to Bill and Hill. This, you may recall, is the same woman who denied under oath that she ever worked on the Castle Grande real estate project and claimed that she didn’t know where to find the billing records that could corroborate her story, only to see those records show up later in the White House family reading room with her own finger prints on them and containing details showing that she did, in fact, bill Madison Guarantee (the project developer) for more than 30 hours of work over four months. This, you may recall, is the same woman who allegedly okayed the hiring Craig Livingstone, an unqualified former bouncer, as the head of the White House office of personnel security, a position he used to obtain illegally several hundred FBI files on assorted Republicans and other political opponents. This, you may recall, is the same woman who purportedly turned a $1,000 investment in cattle futures contracts into a $100,000 profit in 10 months, simply by reading the Wall Street Journal. This, you may recall, is the same woman who publicly blamed her husband’s affair with a 22-year-old intern on a “vast right-wing conspiracy.” This, you may recall, is the same woman who ran for a Senate seat in a state in which she had never lived, establishing residence by buying a house she couldn’t afford which was financed by one of the Democratic Party’s most prominent and most questionable political fundraisers, who just so happens to be the current Democratic nominee for Governor in the Commonwealth of Virginia. This, you may recall, is the same woman whose brother Tony used her to gain access to the President and to secure a pardon for his bank-fraudster friends. Etc., etc., ad nauseam.
And lest this be forgotten, this very same woman is the favorite among Democrats to succeed our current president. Today, of course, most of Hillary’s baggage is air-brushed, dismissed as ancient partisan history. Sure, Hillary’s defenders concede, she is “flawed.” But who isn’t?
The problem with this concession is that it is as trite as it is disingenuous. Hillary is not flawed. She is manifestly corrupt. It’s considered bad form to say that aloud though, just as it’s considered bad form, apparently, to call Anthony Weiner “not normal.” Or just as it’s considered bad form to note that the link between these two – between Hillary and Weiner – is also not normal. Who among us normal folk, after all, could get away with collecting a paycheck for working part time at the State Department while simultaneously collecting another fat paycheck for serving as a consultant to Teneo Holdings? Huma Abedin – also known in various circles as Mrs. Anthony Weiner and Hillary Clinton’s “right hand” – could do it, of course. But don’t you try that at home!
Once upon a time, in this great republic, men and women were elected to office not just because they held the “proper” political views, but because they were people of character, people on whom voters could count to do the “right” thing. Naturally, voters gravitated to candidates whose views they shared. But more than that, they gravitated to candidates whose values they shared. And this, frankly, was just the way it was supposed to be in a republic. As Edmund Burke himself noted, a representative of the people was meant to consider, ponder, and appreciate the concerns of his constituents, but:
His own unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, or any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure – no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.
Would that it were true today.