Politicians whose careers get sidetracked by sex scandals often find their way back to political redemption in part because voters tend to compartmentalize the officeholder’s legislative responsibilities and his personal life. The two aren’t always so separable; Republican former South Carolina governor and now Congressman Mark Sanford’s infidelity was matched by the irresponsibility of his skipping out of the state unannounced to meet his girlfriend.
Voters in New York have yet to decide if they’re ready to let Democratic former congressman and current mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner come in from the cold after his own sex scandal precipitated his resignation from Congress. Voters may be considering whether the scandal is relevant to Weiner’s political qualifications. It is. And for a more fundamental issue than Weiner’s penchant for dishonesty and blaming others. The New York Times, in a devastating analysis today, explains why:
When President Obama needed every Democrat in Congress to back his health care plan in 2009, Representative Anthony D. Weiner threatened behind the scenes to torpedo the package in favor of a more sweeping measure. He backed off after he was promised a bigger share of the spotlight during the highly watched debate.
The previous year, when advocates of immigration reform invited Mr. Weiner to a round-table discussion with business leaders and more senior New York City members of Congress, he demanded to turn it into a hearing, featuring himself in a gavel-wielding role. Rebuffed, he failed to show up.
In 12 ½ years in Congress, he sponsored and wrote only one bill that he steered to enactment: a measure pushed by a family friend who gave his campaigns tens of thousands of dollars in donations.
And those are just the first three paragraphs. Anthony Weiner’s boundless self-regard and complete lack of self-control combine to make him a volatile, nasty, and particularly ineffective legislator. He had become in some quarters a liberal hero for his grandstanding and his yelling on the House floor. And he may have meant it. But he was not there as a representative of the people or their interests; he was there because that’s where the cameras could catch his one-man reality show.
The Times article includes speculation from those who worked with Weiner that all this attention-getting was about raising his profile to eventually run for mayor of New York City. That is unproven, but certainly believable. Had he stayed in Congress scandal-free, he would have been the favorite in this year’s election. He is, in New York political parlance, “from the boroughs”–a reference to his ethnic outer-borough roots and a major advantage in the world of New York City identity politics over the current frontrunner, Christine Quinn of Manhattan. It was generally assumed that he wanted to be mayor more than he wanted to be a congressman.
And that might explain, though not excuse, his disinterest in his congressional day job. He was biding his time. But the more likely explanation is that Weiner must feed his ego. As one former colleague, Ohio Democrat Zachary T. Space, told the Times: “It was like he had a megaphone surgically attached to his mouth.” Aides complained about his temper and colleagues about his disloyalty. He drove people crazy and he drove them away.
Put simply, it’s a temperament issue. The sex scandal was the seemingly inevitable product of the same temperament that made him a poor representative of the people of New York the last time they elected him. Recasting himself as a family man won’t change that.