Poor Rep. Weiner

I'm across the Pacific and on a shaky connection. So I'll make this quick:

I've always liked Rep. Anthony Weiner's "Hey, shuddup, liberals can be tough too" schtick -- as I have James Carville's. There are not enough people in the Democratic party who can slug it out directly the way Weiner did, below, with Megyn Kelly of Fox News.

I felt for Rep. Weiner during his press conference and, to get to the point, in most cases I would think that his online activity is nobody's business but his -- and once he was married, his wife's; and the other women's of course too.

But this isn't most cases. He has run for office, asked for people's trust, and made himself a prominent champion of one side of an important political fight -- a side that he has now embarrassed and let down.

By analogy: Most people are allowed to duck or run away in terror if they hear a shot fired. But police officers or combat leaders aren't allowed to, if they want to retain that role. Most couples are allowed to bicker and yell at each other, if tempers rise. But in their role as parents, they try not to do that in front of the kids. Most people are allowed to say, "I don't like your looks" or "I think you're lying." But a judge presiding over a trial cannot say those things without putting everyone else's efforts at the trial in jeopardy.

That's the equivalent of what Weiner has done. If he weren't a prominent Congressman, it wouldn't matter to anyone outside his immediate circle what he is doing online. But he is a prominent Congressman, and had worked for years to put himself in that role. He worked himself into a position where, now, his lack of judgment hurts not just him but many other people who relied on him and were his allies. He has let them down, and he will hurt their cause every time he speaks in its favor now. He is like a surgeon who swoons at the sight of blood, a football quarterback who dreads being hit, a pilot who shows up drunk. Those behaviors are not "wrong" in some deep transcendent sense (apart from the lying); but they betray others who rely on performance in a certain role. This is why I agree, sadly, with Joshua Green: Weiner should go.

Presented by

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.

Why Principals Matter

Nadia Lopez didn't think anybody cared about her middle school. Then Humans of New York told her story to the Internet—and everything changed.


A History of Contraception

In the 16th century, men used linen condoms laced shut with ribbons.


'A Music That Has No End'

In Spain, a flamenco guitarist hustles to make a modest living.


What Fifty Shades Left Out

A straightforward guide to BDSM

More in Politics

From This Author

Just In