The Anthony Weiner comeback is a godsend for journalists as well as a source of worry for his rivals in the race to be the next mayor of New York. It’s not just that Weiner is a fascinating character whose ambition, ego and single-minded drive for political power makes for a compelling story. Anyone who has followed his career has to admit that he has natural political talent and the ability to make people notice and even follow him, traits that have always stood him in good stead as he rose up the political ladder. But if he is to be successful in his attempt to revive his career after the bizarre scandal and the lies that forced him to resign from Congress in 2011, shouldn’t the Weiner reboot be predicated at least in part on the idea that he is a changed man from the guy who popularized the word “sexting” and whose brazen denials and false accusations of a hoax on the part of his critics outraged the nation?
As Maggie Haberman reveals in a must-read story in Politico today, the answer to that question is no. Weiner is not entirely unrepentant in that he’s sorry he got caught and for the humiliation he caused his wife. But there’s no pretense that he has undergone any real introspection about the character traits and problems that sent him off the rails. Indeed, as he tells Haberman in an interview, he seems to think New Yorkers want him to be the exactly same obnoxious guy whose aberrant behavior made him one of the most notorious figures in our recent political history.
Weiner is within his rights to act in this way, and if a majority of New Yorkers agrees that he is still the best man to lead their city government, he’s going to wind up the next mayor. But both he and his backers are taking a huge gamble. Without any sense that he understands what drove him to bad behavior or any real commitment to change, what guarantee does anyone have that he won’t slip back to it or do something else that is just as weird, or even worse, in the future?
Weiner resists being “put on the couch” by reporters who want to know what’s going on inside his head and insists that the election should be about the issues, not his personality traits. Fair enough. He claimed in his roll-out video that he “made some big mistakes and I know I let a lot of people down. But I’ve also learned some tough lessons.” But if so, what possible lessons could he have learned if he’s convinced that it’s OK to be the exactly same person who made the mistakes?
One needn’t be an advocate for the culture of therapy that pervades so much of contemporary American life to understand that when you break down, you’ve got to come to terms with what brought you to that point and caused the behavior that caused the problem. Weiner appears completely without interest in doing so and not just because he’s said that—contrary to what his aides promised when he resigned from Congress—he didn’t undergo therapy or rehab. Redemption is, as Haberman notes, always a popular theme with voters. But if Weiner’s mea culpas are this perfunctory and he thinks people want him to be the same person he was, that sounds like a formula for future trouble.
As much as Weiner wants the race to be about issues, any election to an executive post eventually comes down to personalities and trust. Despite New Yorkers liking politicians with combative styles—Rudy Giuliani and Ed Koch being just two of the most recent outstanding examples—it’s an open question as to whether they are willing to buy into the idea that Weiner’s hyper-aggressive personality is so attractive as to overwhelm concerns about what brought him down in the first place. As Politico makes clear today, Weiner thinks the answer to that question is yes.