Many people are mystified that a smart man like Anthony Weiner, who did his job well, and seemed to have everything, could blow it so spectacularly. But what he did had nothing to do with intelligence, or even with lust in its usual form. (One-handed surfing could have satisfied that need easily.)
The New York Times reports that Weiner knew he was being followed on Twitter by right-wingers suspicious of his activities and eager to catch him in the act. There’s evidence that the Congressman was playing a game of cat and mouse with them, and in an interview he had three weeks ago, Weiner spoke about the risks of social media. Even after numerous political “sex” scandals, including the recent resignation of Congressman Christopher Lee, who was also caught sending a shirtless photo, Weiner did not curtail his activities.
People who think that this was “about” sex, another example of monogamy’s being outmoded, have it wrong.
Bill Clinton’s getting a blowjob in the White House was about sex. The most powerful man in the world was at heart an awkward adolescent who still could not believe that some pretty (albeit zaftig) young woman really, really, wanted him, and he was going to get some! Right there in the Oval Office! Like something JFK would have done! He hadn’t asked for it. He knew it was wrong, but when confronted with this gift, despite the risks, he couldn’t say no.
In Weiner’s case, there was no oral sex. He’s a newlywed who was likely still getting laid at home, by a beautiful woman. According to one of his virtual companions, there was some “sex chat” on the telephone. Hardly close to the real thing.
Sex like drugs is a rush. But where was the sex in this scandal? And if not sex, what was he doing it for? He’s not excusing his behavior by claiming to have been drunk or high. He seems as bewildered as anyone.
The answer to the question “why” is simple. Danger was the drug of choice. Weiner wasn’t pursuing women online in order to get off despite the risk. He was getting off because of the risk. Risking it was the rush. Gambling is a recognized addiction. It might have started off with just joking around and flirting, but at some point knowing “they” were watching, waiting for him to slip up, made the stakes higher, and the game a whole lot more interesting. You could lose everything with one click, but he kept on winning.
As he became even more known for his passionate political style and biting sound bites, there was more to lose and it was irresistible. Marriage and the very real possibility of achieving his goal of becoming the Mayor of New York City, added to the thrill of possibly destroying it all every single time his thumbs got itchy and he’d grab his phone.
But he was playing too well. His opponents couldn’t catch him. He was too smart for an army of them. And that must have felt like cheating death itself.
This was even better than sex with a goddess who happened to be the love of his life. Here he was risking even that, risking his very existence, yet surviving and triumphing, again, and again and again.
Finally, like any gambler losing his streak, like any junkie who winds up on a slab, he screwed up. It didn’t take one of his “conquests” setting him up. His own thumb betrayed him as he publicly tweated the infamous underwear shot. Was it on purpose? Maybe, in the same sense that someone hovering by a cliff long enough, will eventually slip. Why they were hovering in the first place is the question.
And then he tried one last bluff — telling the press, he was hacked. But it was over. His heart wasn’t in it. He knew he was done. No finger wagging with a definitive, “I did not have sexts with that woman.” Just a bewildered man, who knew enough not to ask his wife to accompany him when he stepped out to meet the press.
Some people worry about his mental state. They’re right to do so. Donald Manes was once upon the time Queens Borough President. He was accused of corruption and killed himself while under indictment. Manes may have been bi-polar. Bi-polar people are most at risk of suicide after a manic episode when they come back down to earth and see the consequences of their actions. Weiner isn’t bi-polar. He’s never been accused of the type of graft that Manes was indicted for. But like Manes, he is now, as a result of his actions facing a different future than the one he was looking at yesterday. Weiner is a successful man, and successful people often aren’t very skilled at failure. It hits them hard.
This isn’t about whether or not he should step down. I leave that to the chattering classes and people at the water-cooler or the dinner table. I would suggest that those who are his friends, however betrayed and angry they might feel, show him a little compassion, and those of us watching on the sidelines still snickering, we might find better uses for our time.