Commentary Magazine


Note to Weiner: NYC Isn’t South Carolina

As Seth notes, Anthony Weiner’s hopes for a comeback got a major boost from a sympathetic profile in this coming Sunday’s New York Times Magazine that was made available online this morning. There is plenty of material in the piece that should make readers squirm as the hopelessly adrift Weiner tries to worm his way back into the good graces of the public by talking about how he has made amends with his wife Huma Abedin after his astonishing sexting scandal. Yet Weiner is calculating that the creation of what he calls a “second narrative” via his friends in the liberal press can not only begin his rehabilitation but actually him elect him mayor of New York City this year. With millions in his campaign war chest and a weak field, Seth’s optimistic evaluation of his chances seems reasonable. After all, if former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford can be on his way back to Congress after a scandal that involved actual, rather than virtual, infidelity, then why can’t Weiner do as well with the presumably far less moralistic electorate of the Big Apple?

It’s true that, as the Times feature shows, Weiner can count on the sympathy of the mainstream media, has a huge campaign war chest and the current frontrunner for mayor—City Council Speaker Christine Quinn—is a relatively weak candidate who can’t count on much support outside of Manhattan. But Weiner may be miscalculating if he thinks he can pull off the same trick as Sanford. New Yorkers may not be as prudish as the rest of the country about sex, but I think they are far less likely to buy into a redemption campaign.

Sanford may still wind up losing a safe congressional seat for the Republicans in the general election after his primary win. But even if we assume that he will be returned to Congress, it needs to be understood that his appeal is predicated on the existence of a large group of voters who are moralistic enough to be disgusted by his behavior but religious enough to be deeply affected by his talk of asking for God’s forgiveness.

While there are plenty of religious Christians in New York, as well as lots of observant Jews, the sort of redemption tactic Sanford is trying to employ in South Carolina won’t wash there. Instead, Weiner must convince voters that: a. his transgression was no big deal; b. he’s really sorry about it; and c. he’s still the best candidate for the job of mayor. His chances of selling them on “a” and “c” seem fair. But the sorry part may lead to an unfortunate discussion that Sanford’s religious psychodrama has avoided.

Absent the faith-driven grace that Sanford is extracting from his voters, all Weiner is left with is his own repellent personality. While New Yorkers may have not cared much about him being, in Seth’s admirable phrase, “a geyser of spite and malice” prior to the incident because he was competent, the “ick” factor that stems from his sending pictures of his private parts to strangers lingers. South Carolinians may forgive Sanford for being a sinner, but what Weiner needs is for a city full of cynical, tough-minded New Yorkers to forget that he made a laughingstock of himself. Being a fool for love, as Sanford proved to be, is one thing. Being a fool on the Internet is another. The notion that Christians must forgive the repentant won’t win any elections in the five boroughs.

Let’s also remember one crucial aspect of these two scandals. Sanford’s “Appalachian Trail” fibs were pathetic but once his affair was made public, he owned up to it. Weiner’s problems stemmed not only from his bizarre behavior (which is still harder for people to understand than falling for a South American beauty) but his aggressive lies about it in the weeks that led up to his resignation from Congress two years ago.

The Times’s puffy profile of Weiner had many flaws, but none was as bad as the fact that it failed to discuss just how “beefy” he got with reporters. The piece didn’t mention Weiner’s slandering of the late Andrew Breitbart when he falsely claimed that the conservative journalist “hacked” his Twitter account. While opponents will probably stay away from the sexting, his brazen lies and bullying of the press won’t be forgotten.

Contrary to his own evaluation in which he believes he must come back now or give up all hope, I think he might have done better to start another career and return only after showing some success in another field. But the Anthony Weiner portrayed in the Times is a desperate man. Having never held an honest job in his life, he is ill-equipped to face life after politics and clings to the hope of a comeback in no small measure because he can’t imagine doing anything else. Neither can his wife or anyone else. Indeed, it’s clear that right now his only options are a return to his former career as a guttersnipe politician or remaining home playing “Mr. Mom” while Abedin plots Hillary Clinton’s next political move. It’s hard to see that desperation playing well with a New York audience that prizes competence and toughness.

Weiner always liked to pose as the quintessential New Yorker, but his problem may be that he’s simply appealing to the wrong constituency. For all of the contempt that he often displayed for the hicks in the rest of the country, he’d probably be better off trying to win their love than attempting to do so in his hometown. Perhaps I’m prejudiced about the citizens of my native city, but my guess is that New Yorkers aren’t going to buy Weiner’s second act.

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