Political Hay

Farewell to Weiner

His three-week scandal reaches its pathetic conclusion.

By 6.17.11

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Three weeks ago, Anthony Weiner was a rising star in the Democratic Party, an influential spokesman for the progressive movement and, quite possibly, the next mayor of New York City.

Today, Weiner is a despised figure so thoroughly disgraced, even in the eyes of the most partisan Democrats, that he is unlikely to have any future in politics. In the process of stringing out his bizarre scandal for nearly three weeks -- the first 10 days of which were spent telling one implausible lie after another -- Weiner damaged himself and his party in a way that would not have happened had he resigned much sooner. By the time Weiner gave his resignation speech Thursday in New York, he was such a pariah that even his political mentor, Sen. Charles Schumer, would not even speak publicly in his defense, instead issuing a brief statement wishing Weiner well.

How deeply disgraced is Weiner? The Clintons are reportedly "disgusted" and "livid" at the former New York congressman who last year married Hillary's longtime aide, Huma Abedin, at a ceremony officiated by Bill. It takes an awful lot to disgust the Clintons, obviously, but in stubbornly trying to survive his "virtual sex" scandal, Weiner had hurt the Democratic Party in a way that Bill never did in surviving his own (real) sex scandal more than a decade ago.

Why didn't Weiner survive, when Clinton did? Advances in technology explain much of the difference. It is impossible to estimate how much worse the Lewinsky scandal might have been had Monica and Bill's trysts occurred in the age of the cell-phone camera, Twitter and Facebook. Whereas in 1998, Americans could only imagine the Oval Office encounters between the president and his chubby 20-something former intern, the digital images that defined the scandal known as WeinerGate left little to the imagination. There was also a transcript of Weiner's sexually explicit Facebook exchanges with Las Vegas blackjack dealer Lisa Weiss, and the fact that Weiner's Twitter correspondents included both a blonde porn star and a 17-year-old high school girl with a penchant for freely employing the F-word in her online communications.

In retrospect, it is possible to see Friday, June 11, as the day on which it became clear that Weiner was doomed. The scandal had begun two weeks earlier -- late on the evening of Friday, May 27 -- when Weiner sent a lewd photo of his crotch as a Twitter message addressed to a 21-year-old college student from Seattle. While Weiner first attempted to explain this as the work of "hackers" or a "prank," further revelations forced the congressman to call a June 6 press conference where he admitted the truth: He had meant to send that photo as a private message and by a simple error had sent it publicly to the more than 40,000 people following his Twitter account. At that press conference, Weiner confessed to having carried on a half-dozen "online relationships" with women, but vowed he would not resign.

That vow became non-operational June 11, when police in Delaware showed up at the home of Weiner's teenage Twitter correspondent. Although police said they found no evidence of criminality, and Weiner said there was nothing "indecent" in his private Twitter exchanges with the teen, the very fact that he had been in communication with her was disturbing. In light of what was already known about Weiner's other "online relationships," talking dirty and sending pictures of his penis to women he'd never met, for him to have a 17-year-old among his Internet contacts… well, it just looked bad. Within 24 hours, three top Democrats -- including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, both of whom had previously defended Weiner -- called for his resignation. And as if to put an exclamation mark on the scandal, the morning of Sunday, June 13, saw the release of still more embarrassing photos of Weiner he had taken of himself posing in the congressional gymnasium.

In the wake of Weiner's resignation Thursday, some observers speculated on possible scenarios by which the disgraced Democrat could somehow repair his reputation and make a comeback. Yet such speculations are as silly as previous speculations that he might somehow survive the scandal and remain in office. Weiner did not merely betray his wife -- a sin which liberals are evidently willing to forgive their political heroes -- but he also betrayed his party. When the scandal first made headlines, Weiner lied to Pelosi and other Democratic leaders. He then selfishly sought to hold onto his office, extending the media-grabbing scandal at a time when Democrats had hoped to capitalize on their win in last month's special election in New York's 26th District. All that Weiner did by delaying his resignation was to increase his own disgrace, and decrease the chances that any Democrat would ever support his return to politics in the future.

Weiner essentially destroyed himself, but not without timely assistance from conservative New Media entrepreneur Andrew Breitbart. It was Breitbart's BigGovernment.com that first broke the WeinerGate story, and it was Breitbart who published the photos that forced Weiner into his June 6 confession. Late Thursday night in the lobby of the Hilton Hotel in Minneapolis, where he is speaking at this weekend's Right Online conference, Breitbart gave credit to the 26-year-old single mother who had received those photos from Weiner.

"It was Meagan Broussard -- she was the one who destroyed him," said Breitbart, explaining how he'd encouraged her to come forward for interviews with ABC News and Sean Hannity of Fox News.

Some may doubt that Weiner has indeed been "destroyed," but not Breitbart, who was offering to buy rounds for liberals at the Hilton lobby bar. They probably needed a stiff drink after three weeks of Weiner.

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About the Author

Robert Stacy McCain is co-author (with Lynn Vincent) of Donkey Cons: Sex, Crime, and Corruption in the Democratic Party (Nelson Current). He blogs at The Other McCain.