'Leave It to the Voters'

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Many people have written in to disagree with my saying that Rep. Anthony Weiner has hurt himself so badly that he now weakens his side in the national debate (which I generally agree with) by staying rather than going. This was meant to be not a moralistic but a sad-realities-of-life argument: he was in a position where a lapse of discipline would hurt a lot of people who were depending on him, and he let that lapse occur.

I'll quote two or three representative dissenting messages, and then after the jump add one or two from the other side. Then I'll leave it there rather than arguing anything out. (Which means neglecting for now a point I will try to get to some other time: why, despite the harm his similar indiscipline did to people who depended on him, I never thought Bill Clinton should quit and am glad he didn't.) At this stage the matter is really between Weiner and his wife, and Weiner and his constituents, though the rest of Weiner's party is also affected by the results. Mainly, like most people, I'm just sad about the needless damage all around.

From a reader in Dallas:

>>I do not agree with your suggestion that Congressman Weiner should resign. Unless you are aware of facts unknown to me, I believe that what he is guilty of is the early 21st century equivalent of flirting in a manner that turned out to be more public than he intended. There has been no forced sex. No adultery. No offer to pay for sex. No invitation to have sex. No sex at all. In fact, no physical contact. At most, what we have here is a man signaling (albeit very crudely) that he would like to have sex if the opportunity arose. If his "sexting" is different from what a host of less technologically adept men will do tonight in hotel bars around the country, it is different only in that it is LESS likely to produce the desired outcome.
 
I hate that he lied about it. But I hate more that he was ever asked about it. It is not a crime to lie to a reporter about a personal matter. And if all members of Congress who had been less than forthright with the media (even about matters that are relevant) were to resign at once, the place would be emptied.
 
While I can see how Congressman Weiner's decisionmaking in this raises questions about his judgment, reasonable people disagree about the answers. He has committed no crime. And to my mind, the issues of trustworthiness raised go more to whether one would care to be Rep. Weiner's friend or his spouse, than to whether he is a gifted legislator. The issue that matters is whether he can do a good job representing his district in the House. It is up to the voters in his New York district to answer that question. The fact that Democrats generally are greatly disappointed in him is, in my review, irrelevant.
 
It is, I think, a serious thing for a person of your stature to call for a public official to resign. I worry that you would grow to dislike the consequences of a "rule" requiring immediate resignation in the event of marital infidelity, something more morally suspect than what Weiner has admitted to. One need not be a good spouse -- or even a good guy or gal -- to be a good national leader. And it is not difficult, I suspect, for you or your readers to think of at least one or two truly awful public officials who managed to keep their flies zipped for many years as they did great harm to the country.<<

And from another reader:

>>I appreciate your appreciation for Rep. Weiner's strengths (that clip is priceless; one of my faves), but can't say I agree with your argument.  The analogy does not hold up, as firefighters and the police expressly sign up to go into harm's way in those particular circumstances (though consider the poor suicide victim who was allowed to drown a few days ago because the firefighters were not trained for such rescues, and feared a lawsuit - ??), whereas our Congressional representatives sign on to uphold the Constitution, not confront the slings and arrows of outrageous media frenzy fueled by Puritanical hypocrisy.  Or hypocritical Puritanism.  Whatever.  Though an implicit expectation now in this country, it's also a super-human demand.  And being one for reality, I'll take my approach to these matters with a large dose of compassion.  

There were several tells in this situation yesterday, not least of which was Mr. Weiner's exemplary presentation: sincere, humbled yet dignified, nondefensive, fully accepting blame and responsibility, and emotionally ashamed.  [JF: I agree] He appeared genuinely remorseful, and - especially given that no flesh ever touched flesh in these events (or even gained proximity) - he deserves a second chance...

In short, I was a bit surprised and taken aback that you did not appear to think this one through more carefully.  I feel we make a grave mistake to insist that our politicians are perfect angels; no one will ever measure up to that.  To be honest with you, I was so impressed with that press conference yesterday (hm, only once Weiner took to the podium; certainly not while Breitbart slimed all over it, but don't get me started on him) that I'm eager to see how this event might mark a shift in the Congressman's overall behavior.  We can do with the steel and determination, but a bit less of the cocky.  That would be worth nurturing, at least allowing. <<

And, from a reader on the West Coast who is originally from France:

>>Thanks for articulating a rational reason why Anthony Weiner should resign. But I disagree and I don't find your analogies compelling. A soldier with an uncontrollable fear of gunshots, a surgeon afraid of blood, a drunk pilot, etc are obviously incapable of doing their work. Flirting online doesn't negate one's ability to pass good laws in the same direct way. It only does if you concede that his opponents can use that to destroy his work. Which is a
situation that is reinforced by giving in and demanding that he automatically resigns (thereby acknowledging that somehow it makes him incapable of being a good lawmaker).

At that point I would have probably made a comparison to France and how the privacy of politicians is handled there, but it wouldn't be very compelling in the current climate...<<

Now, on the other side:

>>1. Did Clinton's impeachment teach this guy nothing?

2. Did Spitzer's flameout teach this guy nothing?

3. Please, Please, Please let this be the "scandal" that has recently been predicted as overdue for Obama.<<

And:

>>I too sadly agree that Congressman Weiner should resign, but many in my large circle of liberal friends have suddenly forgotten how aggressively Congressman Weiner worked for every imaginable progressive cause.  Weiner was clearly the most outspoken liberal member of the House.  It was likely too little and too late, but he did show remarkable humility in his apology yesterday....
 
Although the primary victim is of course his wife, what he has done impacts millions of us.  He was such a champion for liberal causes and now he's been reduced to a laughing stock.  And having Breitbart carry on like a fox that just caught a rabbit, just rubs salt in the wound. When the most unlikely liberal politician turns out to be this foolish, it almost makes one feel like liberals are simply doomed.
 
It may be difficult for some to understand how anyone could be so distracted and idiotic to risk everything like this, but Weiner joins a long list of distinguished casualties of a sex scandal - Clinton, Spitzer, Edwards, etc.  Somehow it's different with Anthony Weiner, at least for me.  I think Jon Stewart summed it up best when he said - "it's just sad".<<

Thanks to all for writing in. It is now up to Weiner, his wife, his constituents, and his Congressional allies. Good luck to them all. On to other topics soon.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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