When Congressman Anthony Weiner said yesterday that he “couldn’t say with certitude” that the lewd photo that was allegedly sent to a young woman from his Twitter account wasn’t a self-portrait, he ensured that this controversy wasn’t going to die any time soon. If he isn’t sure about whose crotch was in the photo he could only have been sure that the subject was none other than Anthony Weiner. Even if some evil right-wing pranksters sent the photo, then—a scenario that is sounding more doubtful every minute, considering that Weiner still hasn’t asked for a police investigation—it’s time to stop accepting the notion that he’s some kind of innocent victim.
Instead, it’s time to start making comparisons with Chris Lee. Lee is a forgotten man these days, remembered only for the fact that it was his indiscretion and forced resignation that led to the Democrats triumph in the special election in New York’s 26th Congressional District last month. But it was Lee’s decision to send a stripped-to-the-waist self-portrait to a woman while trolling the Internet for illicit adulterous sex that set the Dem’s Mediscare victory in motion. Lee, too, initially claimed that his account might have been hacked.
There are differences between the two stories. One is that while we know what Lee was up to, we don’t know for certain the purpose of Weiner’s even more salacious self-portrait. Another is that, unlike Lee’s Republican leaders—who demanded his resignation before he even had time to try to spin the story and thus prolong his party’s agony—Weiner’s Democratic colleagues have taken no action against him and are, instead, playing the role of passive onlookers as this melodrama unfolds.
Weiner probably doesn’t have to worry about holding on to his Congressional seat in a district where Republicans have trouble even coming up with a sacrificial lamb to oppose him every two years. But Weiner wants more than that. He wants to be mayor of New York. And he wants to retain his status as a go-to liberal Democrat on the news channels, where he has bullied and smeared his political antagonists with impunity. Even on Tuesday, while in the midst of not answering questions about his own behavior, he attempted to sell the media on a smear of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
So while we should have no expectations that either the Democratic leadership or the voters of Brooklyn and Queens will do something about him in the wake of this scandal, Weiner might stop being treated by the media as a person who deserves serious attention. Instead, he ought to be treated the way Chris Lee would have been had he had the chutzpah to resist calls for his resignation: as the Washington equivalent of a circus freak.