Nominally, New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner is running against City Council President Christine Quinn and several others. More essentially, he is taking on the idea that our leaders are subject to any standards whatsoever.
Fortunately, he appears to be losing both contests.
The seemingly one-of-a-kind “sexting” scandal that got Weiner kicked out of Congress two years ago engulfed him a second time last week, when it became clear that he had continued vigorously distributing dirty self-portraits across cyberspace well after he claimed to have begun his atonement. But rather than exit the race, Weiner calculated that conventional understanding was no match for his overweening arrogance and ambition.
The former congressman’s bid for redemption in the form of another undeserved public office has been suffused with surreality and self-reference. Even as his real name provided endless opportunities for puns on the sex organ he is obsessed with, he disseminated pictures of said appendage under the pseudonym “Carlos Danger.” In cheating on his wife apparently without so much as meeting his virtual mistresses, Weiner threatened to make his political career and personal scandal one and the same — a repetitive, compulsive, embarrassing, and revolting campaign for attention of any kind.
Having paraded his marriage as a symbol of his recovery, the candidate then asked the media to respect its essential privacy now that the story had proved false. He weirdly reminded voters that he had been honest about his dishonesty by predicting the discovery of additional Weiner-grams. And he reasoned that because he had acted egregiously before, his doing so again should have little effect on his run for public office.
At times Weiner has seemed to be at war with reality itself. In an age of voter apathy and media fragmentation, perhaps New Yorkers were paying too little attention to notice the difference between an instance of wrongdoing and its unrepentant repetition.
Bill Clinton and many after him have shown that Americans are long past demanding that politicians be true to their marriages. But as Anthony Weiner is finding out, that doesn’t mean the truth itself has ceased to matter.