Despite many news-worthy events taking place yesterday, including matters on which I am writing (more to come on this), yesterday afternoon was dominated by the bizarre press conference of Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-NY). During his off-Broadway show, Rep. Weiner admitted engaging in repeated erotic exchanges with women he did not personally know, via various means of electronic communication over a period of several years, after having lied to both the press and his wife. This was not merely a whiff of scandal, as many in the so-called mainstream media had at first made it out to be: it was a full-on sexual addiction. As if this was not news enough, most observers were even more shocked when, after tearfully admitting what he had done, Rep. Weiner froze like an iceberg for the rest of his Sally-Field-at-the-Oscars performance, continued talking for nearly half an hour, and refused to step down from his position.
Rep. Weiner’s hubris – and it must be called that – in refusing to resign following these revelations is something which can be viewed as the inevitable result of the society we have created for ourselves over the past 40 years. His refusal to step down, and the support he has garnered in certain corners to remain where he is, arise from a deterioration of the values of personal honor and self-sacrifice rejected by many of his generation, and which had always been ideals of American society. How sadly ironic that this putrid selfishness should be exposed on the anniversary of the Allied Landing in Normandy, when thousands of Americans selflessly died to begin the liberation of Europe from the National Socialist movement.
Taken in the abstract, of course, Rep. Weiner’s decision to stay on makes little sense. As Joshua Green, Senior Editor of The Atlantic and political columnist for the Boston Globe – neither being a particularly conservative-friendly publication – wrote in a very common-sense piece this morning, one should not have to analyze Weiner’s behavior in the context of sexual scandals in order to be convinced that resignation is the only honorable way out of this mess. “He has already admitted to behavior that is unbecoming of a congressman. That is reason enough to call for his resignation,” Green concludes.
Unfortunately that rational conclusion has become a diminished cultural imperative, in a society which has embraced a type of shameless celebrity over humility and substance. For increasingly we have seen a tendency of public servants to embrace the kind of selfishness demonstrated by Rep. Weiner, rather than honor and self-sacrifice, when confronted by their own untoward actions. Rep. Weiner, born in 1964, is part of the tail end of the Baby Boom generation, and it is no surprise that personal hubris in the face of scandal has come to categorize many of the famous political figures of that group.
Bill Clinton is perhaps the most famous example of Baby Boomer shamelessness, and his near-impeachment set a kind of seedy tone for what has come to be viewed, in the eyes of some of our elected officials, the media and the commentariat, as a part of their private behavior that can and should be compartmentalized from their public life. Moreover the turn-around time on these scandals has now become so fast that, for example, within two years of resigning as Governor of New York as a result of his patronage of prostitutes, Elliott Spitzer was given a national news television program – an even bigger platform upon which to express his views than he ever had as a governor, even of an important state.
Once Rep. Weiner goes – which he eventually will whether voluntarily or no – his replacement will no doubt promise to restore integrity to the office. They and the leaders of their party will stand before the cameras at the swearing in and pay lip service to the responsibilities of public service. Let us not delude ourselves into thinking that this will take place in the present climate.
Instead of focusing on cleaning up Congress of individual bad apples like Rep. Weiner, this scandal ought to make Americans take a look at ourselves, individually. We should question whether we are putting selfishness ahead of being honorable, and whether we are citizens still willing to engage in self-sacrifice for the greater good of our neighbor. Are we being discerning in whom we read, watch, listen to, vote for, and so on, looking to those who encourage these virtues? Or are we enthralled by celebrities in entertainment, politics, journalism, etc., who are undeserving of our attention and admiration?
It is one thing to find that an idol has feet of clay. It is another to find out that an idol’s substance is not clay, but in fact dung. Let us try to rid ourselves of that substance in both our individual lives and in our society, before we are overcome by the fumes and it is too late.