A Steward of Our Interests

Amanda Marcotte on the loss of privacy:

But with this Weiner scandal, there's not even the veneer of an excuse in play. Weiner has an outstanding record supporting sexual rights of others, with100% ratings from NARAL and Planned Parenthood,and has a strong record of support for gay rights. No laws seem to have been broken, no public trust compromised, no campaign irregularities indicated, and there's been no suggestion that his flirtations interfered with his ability to do his job. The entire rationale for the scandal is that Weiner isn't living in accordance with strict social mores regarding monogamy, and that's it. Even the whining about how he lied when initially confronted is hollow. In the past, lying when someone asks nosy questions that are none of their business was considered a socially acceptable white lie. (And really, who among us would be a paragon of transparency with Wolf Blitzer waving a penis picture in our face and saying, "Is this yours?") The pretense that it has to matter to the public in order for the public to get involved has been dropped.

This loss of privacy should worry people more than whether or not Weiner was right to lie or even how rude it was of Andrew Breitbart to hijack the press conference. The presumption of sexual privacy may have been stretched at times past the point of recognition, but this represents the first time it's really snapped, at least in my memory. If this Weiner scandal is more than a blip, and instead the beginning of a free-for-all of rooting through politicians' trashcans to make sure their private sex lives adhere to someone else's standards, where will it all end?

Dana Goldstein rebuts:

I'm not here to be a prude. If Congressman Anthony Weiner was plumber Joe Smith and digital exhibitionism was his personal kink, pursued inside his own home and without misleading his wife, I'd be the first one to stand up and defend his right to privacy. But let's face it--any public figure who indulges this particular fetish is asking for trouble. 

Let's review exactly what Weiner did. Over the course of several years, he repeatedly met strange women online and then proceeded to consensually swap semi-nude photos, sexts, explicit e-mail and Facebook messages, and occasionally engaged in phone sex with them. In the case of Meagan Broussard, the Texas mom who just happened to have ties to an as-yet unnamed Republican political activist, Weiner reached out to her at 3 pm on a Thursday; a photo he sent her depicts him sitting at a desk. He seems to have had phone sex from his Congressional office two days earlier with another woman, Lisa Weiss, just before he went down to the House floor to vote on a healthcare bill.

I think, among those of us who find the strict moralizing about human sexuality offered up in our political discourse repellent, there's an impulse to defend Anthony Weiner. I sympathize with that impulse, but I do not share it.

Let me double down on Dana's point--it's important to focus on what Anthony Weiner's specific acts. Weiner, at the very least, sent a unsolicited picture of his thinly veiled privates to a woman. This was not a woman whom he'd met socially, or in some private capacity. This was a college student who "tweeted words of support for him as a politician." In other Cordoba was interested in supporting a public official whose positions, and stridency she admired. Weiner took that as invite to forward Cordoba a picture of his privates.

Weiner serves in the aptly named House of Representatives. In the most specific sense, he represents his District here in New York. But in the broader sense he represents a set of policies which progressives like Dana, Amanda and I generally admire. His skill and tenacity in the media, particularly, made him a darling to those, like Cordoba, who shared his policy positions. When you represent a portion of the public, you are awarded a certain amount of social and cultural power. But the source of that power is always the people you represent; it's called a "base" for a reason.

Using the power of representation to send unsolicited explicit photographs of yourself is reckless. It endangers, not simply your private interests, but the public interests of those you represent. When Anthony Weiner goes on Face The Nation and argues for public option, he represents my policy interests to those who are on the fence. He is, essentially, a spokesperson for my causes and the causes of the party to which I belong. When he commits an act which injures, as he's done here, his allies share that injury.

With that said, we all must draw a line where we deem it appropriate. Early in the 2008 campaign it was argued that by dint of race, Barack Obama would be an effective ambassador for his party. I could see the logic easily being extended to gays or women or other minorities. The difference is that opening up electoral office to all Americans is a part of the liberal agenda. Opening up electoral office to those who would use that office to recklessly dispense unsolicited explicit photos of oneself is not.