Why Anthony Weiner Shouldn't Have to Resign

Instead of stepping down, he should have stayed in office and fought to redeem his record

Anthony Weiner The Tweets - Alex Hoyt - banner1.jpg Rep. Anthony Weiner is set to resign after admitting he sent messages and sexy pictures of himself to women who are not his wife, several news outlets are reporting. He shouldn't have to. If the New York congressman didn't violate any laws, the responsible thing to do -- for his constituents, for his team, and for himself -- is to stay in office and work to redeem his record rather than abandon his post.

If Weiner broke the law, he has to leave. Plain and simple. But let's say he didn't. What's so dangerous about erring on the side of democracy? If New York voters don't mind what their representative captured in pixels so long as he appropriately represents their interests, they'll reelect him in 2012 (assuming he still has a district, after redistricting). On the other hand, if voters consider Weiner's phototextual adultery grounds for removal from office, they'll kick him out themselves.

For every credible argument that Weiner should resign, there is an equally credible case that it was his duty to stay.

1. He Should Resign on Behalf of His Team
If his staff don't want to work for him, they could always quit. Indeed, some of them might have. (Some of them did last year, but for non-social media photography related reasons.) Still, I imagine many of them want him to stay, seeing as how they're unemployed in the event that he resigns. As an Atlantic reader wrote to Jim Fallows, "if Weiner resigns now, this scandal will define him and ruin his staff's careers. If he toughs it out, he has the potential to redeem himself, and by extension, his staff." (Jim and Josh Green deftly make the case for resignation here and here.)

2. He Should Resign on Behalf of His District

Guess who didn't make this argument? Importantly: his district. In a recent poll, 56 percent of registered voters in Weiner's district said he should remain in office. Only a third thought he should resign.

3. He Should Resign Because What He Did Was Morally Repugnant
It was certainly icky! But it wasn't illegal, and it wasn't adultery. Other politicians have done worse and gone on to superstar careers (a Clinton and a Kennedy come to mind) or quiet exists (a wide stance and the Appalachian trail come to mind). I can hear the rebuttal: But Derek, the stubborn resilience of other adulterous and/or law-breaking politicians isn't a model to be followed. It just means that Washington is full of stubborn, resilient, adulterous law-breakers. Yes, the political world is full of those. All the more reason for Weiner and his team to think they ride out this non-illegal, not-adulterous scandal.

4. He Should Resign Because Look at All the Democrats Asking Him to Resign
Democrats ganged up against Weiner as payback for his sometimes errant behavior in Congress and as a way to burnish their own moral credibility with voters. In other words, they're acting rationally to maximize their power in Washington and their chance to stay in Washington. Weiner has every right to do the same. If, or when, he resigns, he resigns disgraced and without a chance of redemption. If he doesn't resign, voters get to decide whether or not to disgrace him in a year and a half.

Weiner has a duty to honor his voters. He should stay in office to let them decide his fate, especially if they want him to stay. He has a duty to his staff. He should stay in office to protect their jobs and redeem their careers. He has a duty to follow the law. If it's discovered that he hasn't, he should leave.

When our representatives stray, democracy is a useful instrument of punishment or forgiveness. We should use it. Anthony Weiner shouldn't resign.

Image credit: Alex Hoyt/The Atlantic

Drop-down image credit: Alex Hoyt/The Atlantic

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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