Commentary Magazine


What Did Weiner Think When Chris Lee Was Ridden Out of Town On a Rail?

Last week when I wrote that, I could “Say With Certitude that Weiner is Starting to Remind Me of Chris Lee,” I had no idea what awaited us. As Alana wrote earlier today, Andrew Breitbart’s release of new Weiner photos means that there is clearly no difference between the behavior of Chris Lee, the Republican from Western New York who was forced to resign his Congressional seat earlier this year and the case of the charming Anthony Weiner.

Now that Weiner has admitted what he did and said he’s not resigning, it’s up to the leaders of his party to determine whether he will be forced out in the same manner as Lee. Right now he may be thinking that just as Charlie Rangel and Barney Frank survived scandals and kept their seats, he may do the same.While the House Republican caucus has in recent years wielded the axe without mercy against their members who have been shown to misbehave, Democrats have taken a more lenient stance toward theirs.

Rangel’s corruption scandal led to censure and the loss of his chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee but he continues as the congressman from Harlem. Frank’s former partner was found to have run a gay prostitution ring out of their apartment, but no one on his side of the aisle thought he should leave office. He also intervened to get a government job for another of his lovers and that story was largely ignored. Of course the classic non-resignation story was Gerry Studds, the Massachusetts congressman who had sex with a 17-year-old male House intern. He was reelected six times after that offense.

Twenty-three years after Studds defied the country by refusing to resign, Florida Republican Mark Foley was accused of sending sexually explicit texts to male interns. He was forced to resign by the GOP. Chris Lee, who sent a stripped-to-the-waist photo himself to a woman while trolling the Internet for adulterous sex was also quickly shown the door by Republican leaders. The one real exception to this rule was David Vitter who not only kept his Louisiana Senate seat after his involvement in a prostitution ring was revealed in 2007, but was re-elected in 2010. But the standards for officials of that state have always been a little different from those of the rest of the country.

The most recent exception to the rule of Democrats skating was New York Governor Elliot Spitzer who resigned after his involvement with prostitutes was revealed. But given that he is now a regular smirking presence on CNN rather than stuck in Albany, perhaps most of the country would have been happier off had he stayed in office.

Some believe the reason why most Democrats stay and Republicans leave during sexual scandals is that the GOP tends to campaign on morals and that misbehavior brands them as hypocrites. Which is something that most Americans, or at least most Democrats, seem to think is worse than a libertine. The willingness of so many to give Bill Clinton a pass for seducing an intern in the Oval Office lends some credence to the idea that many Democratic voters don’t expect their leaders to behave.

But I can’t help wondering now what Weiner was thinking when Chris Lee was ridden out of town on a rail? Knowing that he had done much the same thing himself, was he scared? Did he feel compassion? Or did this arrogant bully think that the same rules wouldn’t apply to him? If so, the question now for Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer, is whether or not he was right?