Anthony Weiner and Liberal Morality

The New York mayoral candidate's two big failures: terrible political sense and a lack of compassion

Andrew Sullivan offers a defense of Anthony Weiner, who has recently been shown to have continued his online affairs even after he resigned from Congress:

No one outside a marriage can fully know what's in it, or what makes it work. For my part, I favor maximal privacy for all married couples in navigating the shoals of sex and life online and off. Monogamous, monogamish, and open relationships are all up to the couples themselves and all have risks and advantages. But ultimately it is up to the spouse to decide if there has been a transgression or not, and whether to forgive and move forward or not. The truly awful spectacle yesterday was seeing Huma Abedin being forced to undergo another public humiliation as the price for her husband's public career. But she clearly stated she was not abandoning her husband. And for me, as for us, that should close the matter.

And let's be clear, there is no victim here. A flirty, horny 22-year-old who talks a great sex game is not a victim. She's a player - and good for her. This nonsense about her being "immature" and Weiner being "predatory" is belied by the facts. She knew he was married when she sexted him and he returned the favors. The only salient question is whether, having lied in the first place about sexting, Weiner was caught deceiving the public again by claiming he had stopped sexting and re-built his marriage, while the compulsion was clearly not over. That's a question of public trust, and there's little doubt that Weiner has squandered it. On the question of lying, the NYT's harrumph this morning is a valid one. Once a politician has deceived people, he gets a second chance. When he deceives them a second time on the same issue, he loses whatever public trust he might have hoped for.

But I see no reason why that trust should not be tested where it should be: at the ballot box. Weiner should not, er, withdraw prematurely. He should do us all a favor, if his wife agrees, and plow on until we can all smoke a collective cigarette. In this new Internet Age someone has to be the person who makes sexting not an excludable characteristic for public office. If it becomes one, then the range of representatives we can choose from in the future and present will be very, very different in experience and background than the people they are supposed to represent.

There's a lot here that I agree with, but I don't get many opportunities to get to the right of Andrew. In all seriousness, I think there are two separate issues. The first is the idea that there is something wrong with online sex. We can dispatch that fairly easily: There isn't. The second is that the mere act of infidelity makes you unfit for public office. I don't think there's much ground for that argument either.

But the problem that I suspect a lot of people have with Anthony Weiner is not that he had an affair, but that he does not seem particularly good at the job of politics. Part of being good at politics is being good at pitching your arguments. Part of pitching your arguments is your public image. We know this. Those of us who are partisans do not examine "favorable and unfavorable" ratings in our polls simply for amusement. We examine them to see who might make the best pitch for the policies we endorse. The actual reasons why some people are viewed favorably and others are not may not always strike us as intelligent. But they are real. Politicians know this and thus guard their image accordingly.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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