Perhaps it was always inevitable but ready or not, it appears that Anthony Weiner is trying to worm his way back into public life. Using his always-formidable powers of self-promotion, the disgraced former congressman has started an understated media campaign aimed at testing the waters to see if the world is ready for Weiner, part deux. A story in the New York Post last weekend about his potential run for either mayor or public advocate of New York City has spawned subsequent pieces in the New York Times and other venues, including a feature in Politico in which pollsters are queried about whether it’s too soon for him to risk the judgment of the voters.
The jury is still out as to whether enough time has passed since the scandal about his tweeting pictures of his private parts to women around the country blew up. But with a formidable campaign war chest of $4.5 million still in his possession and a less than scintillating field of possible rivals, the odds of his running next year for mayor — the post he has always coveted — are rising. But before we get all get sucked into the Weiner redemption play that is sure to precede a run for office, it’s important to remember that he was run out of office for lying, not for “sexting.”
Weiner’s apologists have always been quick to claim that hounding him out of office was unfair because his misbehavior was of the virtual variety. That’s true as far as it goes, as it appears that his hijinks were confined to salacious and bizarre activity on Twitter or email. But though most New Yorkers probably thought such behavior was not what they expected from a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, let alone a newlywed with an accomplished wife, that isn’t what destroyed Weiner’s career.
It was, as it almost always is with such scandals, about his lying. Had he told the truth, it would have been thought odd but it would almost certainly not have been fatal to his career. But Weiner didn’t just fib about his inappropriate behavior. He hatched vicious conspiracy theories in which he accused the late Andrew Breitbart of manufacturing the offensive tweet with the picture of his genitals. He stood in the halls of Congress and publicly berated the press — including sympathetic reporters from CNN– for having the temerity to ask about the story. The initial substance of the scandal was nothing earth shaking, but by the time his lies about Breitbart and the rest of it were exposed — as such lies always must be — he had dug himself such a deep hole of opprobrium that there was no climbing out.
So as we watch and read about the inevitable tell-all interviews in which Weiner will bare his soul, beg for our forgiveness and speak hopefully of using his talents for the good of the nation, let’s recall that his odd proclivities merely served as a window into what his critics had already understood was a rotten political soul. Weiner’s lies about his tweeting were a product of the political vitriol he spewed on every topic during his mercifully truncated congressional career.
At the time of his resignation, it was widely observed that his arrogance and ruthless political tactics had left him without either friends or goodwill when he needed help. Weiner was a past master of hyper-partisan attacks on opponents. There was no limit to either his chutzpah or his willingness to besmirch anyone who got in his way. Even in a town like Washington and a cynical institution such as the Congress, he stood out as a rogue and was not missed when he left. The noises coming from Weiner’s camp which make it look as if they will try again to disgracefully blame his troubles on the late Breitbart tells us that while he may be chastened by his experience, he has not changed.
It may well be that Weiner’s money and a mayoral field with an opening for a white candidate from the boroughs (as opposed to Manhattan) will make the former congressman a serious contender for the Democratic nomination next year. But before the press gets sucked into further promoting his comeback, let’s remember it wasn’t the sexting or the pictures that sunk his career. It was the lying.