It’s been more than 48 hours since the Anthony Weiner reboot began, but so far the indications are that the plight of the middle class in New York City is about the last thing anybody is talking about. Instead, the main topic of discussion about Weiner’s candidacy is what everyone who hasn’t been in a coma for the last two years always knew it would be: the bizarre sexting scandal that forced his resignation from Congress in 2011.
It should be no surprise that we’re still talking about the fact that Weiner’s career was buried under a deluge of national derision about his habit of sending lewd pictures of his body parts to women and the disgust over his weeks of lies and false accusations that his political opponents had concocted the story in order to discredit him. After all, it’s not just the tabloids like the New York Post and the New York Daily News that are engaging in an orgy of front page headlines with puns at Weiner’s expense. Even the ultra-liberal public radio station WNYC was quizzing him about his problems. Fellow New York Democrat Governor Andrew Cuomo summed it up for most members of his party as well as the citizens of Gotham when he replied to a reporter’s suggestion that Weiner might win by simply saying that if so, “Shame on us.”
But what is just as interesting as the circus freak atmosphere of Weiner’s campaign is another angle of it that was explored this morning by the New York Times. Rather than just being the suffering yet faithful spouse in this drama, the Times claims Weiner’s wife Huma Abedin is the driving force behind his attempted comeback. Indeed the paper claims the main reason why some Democratic consultants have even considered joining his campaign is because they feel doing so will give them access to Abedin and a leg up toward a job with the next presidential campaign of her personal patron and surrogate mother, Hillary Clinton. That means that rather than merely being a prop in her husband’s soap opera whose presence is intended to deflect outrage about his personality defects, it is Abedin who is actually the more interesting subject for scrutiny.
As the Times article and other reports make clear, Bill and Hillary Clinton are appalled at the idea of being dragged into the Weiner free-for-all. They have said they won’t endorse any candidate in the Democratic primary and the consensus is that both the former and the would-be future president both think of Weiner with the same contempt that many parents view the spouses of their children. But their affection for Huma is apparently so great (Weiner’s wife is also a close friend of Chelsea Clinton) that she will continue working for Hillary even while her husband dives head first into tabloid hell with Abedin’s encouragement.
That makes Abedin a clear asset to Weiner, especially as he attempts to raise more money from the Clinton campaign base (the Times lets drop that the Mr. and Mrs. Weiner are currently living in a fabulous Park Avenue condo that is owned by a donor to the Clinton campaigns). But while her political smarts that are so valued by her boss Hillary are also being put to good use by Weiner, the extra attention won’t necessarily be helpful in terms of attracting votes.
Abedin came under fire last year when Rep. Michele Bachmann and some other Republican members of Congress sent a letter to the secretary of state that, among other things, noted the ties that some members of the Clinton staffer’s family had close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. That accusation, which was part of a paper that actually raised serious questions about State Department policy that deserved a discussion, was drowned in a backlash against Bachmann that was driven by the affection many in Washington have for Abedin, including prominent Republicans like Senator John McCain.
But while Abedin’s possible connections to extremists should have raised some eyebrows, it should also be conceded that talk about her as an Islamist Manchurian candidate seems far-fetched. Her marriage to a Jew and support for mainstream Democrats may make perfect sense to conspiracy theorists, but for the rest of us those things make it difficult to portray her as the thin edge of the wedge that would theoretically be seeking to impose sharia law on one of the most secular as well as Jewish cities in the world.
That said, if the press ever does tire of asking Weiner why he sent strangers pictures of his genitals or ferreting out the as-yet-unpublished photos that he has told us are still out there, somebody is bound to start asking him about his wife’s views about Israel, the Palestinians or the current Egyptian government. Whether that forces Abedin to come out of the closet as a Muslim Zionist in order to persuade more New Yorkers to trust Weiner again or merely gives her another opportunity to play a victim, as was the case with Bachmann’s accusations, its hard to see how that discussion helps Weiner or Clinton.
In the meantime, most members of the press continue to focus on Weiner’s gaffes (the picture of Pittsburgh instead of New York on his website that was eventually corrected) and the disgust he generates among many Democrats, rather than his preferred talking point about the middle class. The disgraced former congressman may still be the only candidate in the race who can even pretend to care about the outer boroughs of the city or how those who are neither part of the city’s elites nor the poor are being priced out of Gotham. Unfortunately for him, and the cause of helping the middle class, the hypocrisy of Weiner’s pretense is only accentuated by the attention given to his wife since it reminds voters that he is about as solidly planted among the Manhattan elites as any Park Avenue socialite.
But instead of obsessing about the slim chance that Weiner may become mayor, perhaps the only really interesting thing about his campaign is that it will give us a chance to learn more about the woman who might become the White House chief of staff in 2017. As such, let’s hope Weiner hangs around in the race and that his wife continues to emerge from the shadows long enough for us to get a better handle on her views, whatever they might be.