Why Weiner?

Good riddance to Anthony Weiner. But what makes him so special?

Anthony Weiner has been forced to resign by the leadership of his own party, which had long since grown tired of his weird sex scandal dominating the news cycle. And good riddance. But it’s not clear why Weiner’s relative minor, if hugely embarrassing, transgressions merit his ouster while so many more serious  scumbags have been allowed to stay in office.

Most notably, of course, is President Bill Clinton. While the likes of Sam Donaldson were sure he’d be forced to resign in a matter of days, he survived months and months of increasingly salacious and tawdry revelations far worse than Weiner’s and emerged with increased popularity. He did far more than show pictures of his private parts to a woman not his wife; he committed adultery. And the woman was a junior staffer to boot, which is surely sexual harassment. Beyond the sex scandal, he perjured himself in front of a federal grand jury. Yes, he was impeached by the Republican dominated House on a party line vote. But the Senate spared him conviction. Yes, he was later disbarred. But it’s not as if he was going to practice law, anyway.

Senator David Vitter was a regular client of a prostitution service. He was roundly condemned by his colleagues but not pressured to resign, at least partly because Louisiana’s Democratic governor would have appointed his replacement. He went on to survive a primary challenge and get re-elected.

Representative Charlie Rangel failed to report $75,000 in income to the IRS. He was given a slap on the wrist by his House colleagues and survived.

Representative William Jefferson was allowed to stay on despite an FBI sting that found $90,000 in bribe money in his freezer. Rather than rebuking him, his party leadership came to his defense, pleading that the executive branch had no right to investigate a Congressman in this way. He went on to win re-election but was ousted after his conviction on 11 counts.

Then again, Weiner isn’t the only one forced out. Senator John Ensign was forced out in the aftermath of revelations that he had an extramarital affair.  Representative Mark Foley was forced out after a series of embarrassing revelations about sexually suggestive emails to male pages.  And dozens have been forced out over outright criminal conduct, mostly bribery and other financial corruption or, in the case of Representative Bill Janklow, vehicular manslaughter.

Is Weiner’s scandal really worse than that of those who survived? How much of his Democratic colleagues’ reaction against him is personal? And how much of it is sheer electoral politics, given that he’s in a safe Democratic territory and New York will be losing seats in the next Congress, anyway?

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Michael Demmons says:

    Forced to resign in a sexual scandal where no sex actually occurred.

  2. It wasn’t the sex, or lack thereof, that sealed Weiner’s fate. It was the fact that new stuff kept coming out, the fact that he spent a week lying about it and concocting a bizarre story about hacking, the general creepiness of his behavior, and the fact that he never really had any friends on Capitol Hill even before this happened.

    This story became a distraction for the Democrats and Weiner was expendable

  3. James Joyner says:

    @Michael Demmons: Right. Now, I happen to think that Congressmen shouldn’t be texting images of their private parts, especially to random people they’ve met only on Twitter, especially when they’re married. And I think what Weiner did–especially when compounded by weeks of lying–is enough to force his ouster. I’m just saying that the standards don’t seem to be consistent.

  4. Jay Tea says:

    Let’s not forget Chris Lee and Larry Craig while we’re at it. And what the hell — let’s toss Barney Frank in there. One of his paramours was running a prostitution service out of Frank’s home, another of his ended up at Fannie Mae largely on Frank’s recommendation, and a third was busted for pot while in Frank’s presence.

    I’m sure there are plenty of others, but there’s three more logs for the fire.

    (Almost said “faggots for the fire,” but I’m not British enough to pull that one off…)

    J.

  5. justinslot says:

    Re: Vitter versus Weiner–is it simply a matter of political calculus? Like, if Vitter comes from a state with a R governor who can reappoint another R to his seat, he goes. Meanwhile maybe Pelosi thinks Weiner’s seat can be easily retaken.

  6. Jay Tea says:

    Justin: you’re missing a factor in your calculus. New York is going to lose two House seats in the next election, thanks to reapportionment after the census. Weiner just made it a bit simpler for the state — they can carve up his district and part it out to other districts.

    If they gotta lose the seat, why not lose the dirtbag seat-holder too?

    J.

  7. The fact that others have arguably gotten away with worse in no way mitigates his dishonorable behavior. If it did, how could we punish anyone for murder with O.J.Simpson walking around free?

  8. JKB says:

    I think it was the camera in the Congressional locker room. He could have captured Rahm in one of his naked cornering moves.

    Or it is the 17-yr old texting that will hit the fan soon. Remember, he didn’t have to send pictures, under many of the laws, one word of a provocative nature to the minor and he could end up with some form of Communicating with a Minor for Immoral Purposes charge.

  9. lunaticllama says:

    It was clear that Weiner’s seat was going to be redistricted out of existence. Also, for what it’s worth, there are rumors that Weiner lied to the House leadership and Obama about the truth of the incident. Lying to the head of your party is a pretty good way to get everyone pissed off at you.

  10. Rick Almeida says:

    To be fair, the Ensign situation involved significant evidence of illegal behavior notwithstanding the increadibly tawdry nature of the extramarital affair.

  11. Chad S says:

    The lesson here: if you’re a politician, just have the illicit sex.

  12. James Joyner says:

    @charles austin: Yes, I say so in the opening paragraph. I’m just wondering why he’s different.

  13. hey norm says:

    Had he come clean in the beginning it may have been short-lived and he might have survived. But he didn’t. So it wasn’t.
    Clearly he was forced out only because he has become a major distraction. He took the oxygen out of NY-26, Ryan abolishing Medicare, etc, etc. Is that fair? No.

  14. Andre Kenji says:

    1-) The problem is that a image is worth a thousand words. All these photos that destroyed him;

    2-) Another problem is that he is a partisan hack, famous for speaking loudly in the House Floor, but doing a poor job as representative. Dennis Kucinich, for instance, may be extremely liberal, but at least he tries to do Legislative job to advance his objective.

    There is very few things that he actually did besides screaming for single payer or for abortion rights. That´s the kind of representative that no one needs.

  15. Jay Tea says:

    Hmm… Alan Grayson in Florida is gone, too. So is Sheila Jackson-Lee (at least from Congress). It appears that being a designated Democratic bomb-thrower is not the best position for advancement (or even longevity) in the House.

    Any other good bomb-throwers out there? Of either party? The GOP shed Bob Dornan and Newt Gingrich. Allan West has some potential…

    J.

  16. ponce says:

    And I think what Weiner did–especially when compounded by weeks of lying–is enough to force his ouster.

    The morality of Republicans always confuses me.

    Twittering a little sausage picture is a capital offense.

    Slaughtering dozens of innocent people in the third world is a tragic, yet very understandable mistake that should carry zero punishment.

  17. rodney dill says:

    Slaughtering dozens of innocent people in the third world is a tragic, yet very understandable mistake that should carry zero punishment.

    Where have you seen anyone ever saying this should is understandable or carry zero punishment. I’ve never seen anyone of import ever make this claim. Now if the statement was “Dozens of innocent people dying as a result of collateral damage in a war zone in the third world is a tragic, yet very understandable mistake that should carry zero punishment.” (FTFY) it would capture the right sentiment. Also who with any significance in the Republican party leadership who called for Weiner’s death? Links would be nice.

    The morality of Republicans always confuses me.

    You didn’t reiterate anything resembling that I think resembles a “Republican Morality” view, I think you’re just confused.

  18. justinslot says:

    @Jay: Ah yeah, forgot about that. But that does suggest, calculuswise, he was expendable, like Ensign and unlike Vitter.

  19. ponce says:

    I’ve never seen anyone of import ever make this claim.

    I have seen James make it.

  20. James Joyner says:

    @ponce: I haven’t the slightest idea what you’re talking about, much less how it has any bearing on the topic at hand. What does collateral damage in a war have to do with taking photographs of your penis and messaging them to strangers?

  21. Gustopher says:

    Ensign wasn’t forced out by his leadership, he quit to avoid testifying under oath. Had the Republican leadership forced him out, he would have been gone long ago.

  22. TG Chicago says:

    Representative William Jefferson was allowed to stay on despite an FBI sting that found $90,000 in bribe money in his freezer. Rather than rebuking him, his party leadership came to his defense, pleading that the executive branch had no right to investigate a Congressman in this way. He went on to win re-election but was ousted after his conviction on 11 counts.

    The second sentence here is unfair. The concern about raiding a Congressman’s office was bipartisan. Hastert and Pelosi issued a joint statement demanding the return of the documents seized in the raid. James Sensenbrenner, Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, held hearings regarding the raid’s propriety. It was the leadership of both parties in Congress that objected to the raid.

    And Pelosi did tell Jefferson to step down from his committee assignments days after the raid. You can make a strong argument that she should have acted sooner, but you imply that Democrats stood firmly by him through the whole thing.

  23. TG Chicago says:

    So it’s okay to refer to gay men as “faggots” as long as you make a little winking British remark?

  24. ponce says:

    What does collateral damage in a war have to do with taking photographs of your penis and messaging them to strangers?

    All part of the morality spectrum, James.

    The things you are offended by say a lot about you.

  25. Jib says:

    I dont get it either. Not that I care about Weiner one way or another but compared to Vitter his crimes were minor since he actually did not commit any crimes. Vitter broke laws. Jefferson was allowed to stay for along time and he broke laws too.

    And on top of that, they had an easy way to get rid of Weiner next year. Just force him into a district with another Dem. Now they appoint a new rep and that rep will be forced into a new district next year which seems to me would be a bigger threat to an existing congressman than a disgraced incumbent would be.

    It is not that Weiner should have stayed, the congress and the democratic party are better off with him gone. It is just that there are so many other people who committed real crimes who are still in congress or were allowed to hang on for much, much longer.

    Nobody defended him and the Dems worked hard and fast to get him to resign. Either there is more to the scandal than we currently know or this guy was really a major a##hole with no friends at all in congress.

  26. Jay Tea says:

    TG, in the sense of “something to throw on the fire,” yeah. But like I said — I’m not British enough to pull that off.

    Man, it kills puns when you have to spell them out…

    J.

  27. rodney dill says:

    I have seen James make it.

    James does not appear to concur. Perhaps you could provide an example.

  28. Herb says:

    I’m just saying that the standards don’t seem to be consistent.

    Seems like “standard” isn’t the right word to use. Crass cynicism would be more apt. The only sex scandal worth talking about is the one that can be weaponized.

  29. I think several factors come together here (in no particular order–and with some more significant than others):

    1. The fact that there are photos that can be shown over and over and over.
    2. The fact that a 17 year old was involved (even if there appears to be no there there)
    3. The fact that a porn star was involved (and one that called him a liar, no less).
    4. The repeated lying.
    5. The fact that his name evokes the scandal and just adds to the ridicule.
    6. The fact that his seat is going to go away anyway.
    7. The fact that his wife is pregnant and fixing his marriage will be easier out of the spotlight (assuming that it needs some work, which strikes me as a legit assumption).
    8. The large number of examples (and the possibility that worse could yet be discovered).
    9. The media environment.

  30. And linked, perhaps to #7:

    #10: He wasn’t able to produce a “Good Wife” moment with his bride by his side (as Vitter painfully did) to prove that she, at least, has allegedly forgiven him.

  31. alanmt says:

    I don’t know. His resignation seems silly to me, but his missteps during the process are probably the catalyst, with a touch of 17 year old girl for spice.

    The proper response, of course, was “It’s none of your business.” Again and again.

    CIA breaks the law during Bush administration by trying to indulge in character assassination of John Cole. Barely mentioned. Weiner tweets his weiner – huge deal investigated to prurient satiation. Bravo!

  32. An Interested Party says:

    @TG Chicago: It’s interesting that the person using that term gets all bent out of shape when anyone refers to him or his ilk as teabaggers…I guess anyone who wants to do that should also invoke the pun defense…

  33. anjin-san says:

    So it’s okay to refer to gay men as “faggots” as long as you make a little winking British remark?

    @TG: The poster in question, as has been noted before, is a brave man talking smack while hiding behind a computer.

    I’ve lived my entire life in the SF Bay Area, so I am pretty tuned in to this sort of crap. The men who use expressions like that tend to have deep seated doubts about their own manhood. With good reason.

  34. anjin-san says:

    taking photographs of your penis and messaging them to strangers?

    I thought he was sending them to people he is acquainted with online. Is that not the case? He was sending them to total strangers?

  35. TG Chicago says:

    I don’t care much about the fact that Jay Tea is using bigoted slurs. It’s what bigots do.

    I’m more interested in the fact that Joyner, who is supposed to be one of the sane conservatives, simply ignores it. The comments policy says “The use of profanity stronger than that normally permitted on network television is prohibited.” I don’t believe that word is allowed on network television, at least not in this country. It also proscribes “Use of ethnic, racial, or gender slurs” While I suppose this doesn’t fit the letter of that law, I’d think it violates the spirit of it.

    But if Joyner feels that ethnic, racial, and gender slurs are bad, but homophobic slurs are okay, I’d be interested to know that. So far, he’s unwilling to answer.

  36. James Joyner says:

    @TG Chicago : Context matters. It’s a mild slur used in a rather lame joke and not aimed at any of the posters or commenters. I might have deleted it, anyway, if I caught it early but there’s now a discussion around it, so it would just be confusing.

  37. TG Chicago says:

    Well, I have my answer. I guess it’s nice to be able to decide whether slurs are “mild” or not. The NBA apparently disagrees, given that they recently fined a player $50,000 for using the term.

    Obviously you don’t particularly mind anti-gay slurs, since you defend them even when they go against the “network television” standard you set. And apparently you think it’s okay to call gay men “faggots” as long as you don’t do it to their face. Interesting concept.

    I know when I’m not welcome.

  38. James Joyner says:

    @TG Chicago: Again, context matters. See these posts from the archives:

    Glenn Beck F-Word Controversy (January 2007)

    Ann Coulter Calls John Edwards ‘Faggot’ (March 2007)

    Deep Thoughts and Faggot Jokes (March 2007)

    An Open Letter to CPAC Sponsors and Organizers Regarding Ann Coulter (March 2007)

    Free Speech Includes Offensive Jokes! (April 2007)

  39. Jay Tea says:

    For what it’s worth, James, I apologize. No, not for the joke per se, but for making it where you’d have to deal with the buttheads getting their knickers in a knot over it. It would have been better placed at Wizbang, where my strong defense of gay marriage and gay rights in general has gotten me some grief from my regular audience.

    And yeah, it was lame. Which is why I (pardon the expression) “back-doored” it instead of making it openly. The parenthetical placement was an acknowledgement that it was, truly, lame.

    J.

  40. An Interested Party says:

    All slurs are equal, but some slurs are more equal than others.

  41. Eric Florack says:

    Obama said it himself; Weiner got it because he was becoming too large a distraction from the agenda. Ask Jim Traficant about what happens to such people.