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Weiners and things

Peter Wickham

Weiners and things

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Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. – John 8:7
SOME WEEKS AGO, I posted a now infamous photo of one section of former United States Congressman Anthony Weiner’s underwear-clad body on Facebook and invited comments related to the amusing non-political aspects of this issue that was smouldering at the time.
This post attracted considerable attention as a large number of my Facebook friends took the opportunity to make light of this legislator’s momentary lapse in judgement.  
The Facebook and jocular route seemed to be an appropriate way to address an issue which was amusing and which one reasonably assumed would be the proverbial “seven-day wonder”, as America turned its attention back to important political issues like the national debt and the never-ending recession.
Naturally, the shock of Congressman Weiner’s resignation was such that I now feel compelled to lament publicly on the sad state of affairs in the United States that would cause a young bright legislator to suddenly resign.
If we are to properly frame this issue, it is important to reflect on one edition of People And Things a few weeks ago that spoke to the almost perverse French fixation with the need for public interest to “stop at the bedroom door”.  
This is a maxim that I am very comfortable with. However, that article argued that there is a fundamental difference between reasonable privacy and the abuse of privacy norms to perpetrate a criminal offence. In this instance (Weiner’s case) the pendulum seems to have swung too far in the other direction and the Americans are punishing a politician for doing something that is a normal part of social intercourse today.
The travesty, tragedy and hypocrisy presented by this incident are overwhelming. However, the final straw has to be the epitome of self-religiousness in the shape of a self-confessed “whore” who believed herself to have the moral authority to call on Weiner to resign because he exchanged sexually explicit “Tweets” with her and then lied about it.  
This woman is clearly exploiting Weiner’s bad luck to launch her post-porn career, and the American public appears to have swallowed her foolishness “hook, line and sinker”.  
One is therefore moved to ask if America has misconstrued the egalitarian society to be one in which a prostitute has sufficient moral authority to challenge the human failings of a Congressman and be applauded by a majority of members in that society for this?  
Clearly then, America is imposing unrealistic behavioural expectations for their politicians who are being held to a higher standard than that which America holds itself.
The technical argument used by the prostitute and several others who also called for Weiner’s resignation revolved around the fact that he lied about the act when challenged initially, which is a fact that would have greater resonance if it was not previously dissected in the course of another political scandal.
One need only mention the name Bill Clinton and we can all recall one of the most popular “political lies”. Clinton said: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” and thereafter admitted to both oral and “manual sex” with the said “woman”.
Clinton’s ability to dodge the bullet by skilfully exploiting legal technicalities is admirable, but does little to convince the vast majority of us that he denied having “sex” with Monica Lewinski when he clearly did.  
In this regard his forgiveness stemmed not from the definition of sex, but from the fact that the vast majority of us understand the nature of politics and appreciate why a politician placed in such a position would opt to tell a lie.
In Barbados we are fortunate that these issues never come up in the first place because of our “French-like” acceptance that these matters belong in the pages of Pudding & Souse, and should not occupy precious space in the realm of serious public discourse.  
If this were not the case, however, we would be forced to appreciate that people often need to lie for several good reasons, and politicians, as people, will often tell lies; and this is a fact that we must live with.  
As objectionable as this statement might appear, a casual reflection would convince the sceptic that politicians frequently lie for good and bad reasons, and it is not surprising that both Clinton and Weiner offered similar reasons for their manipulation of the truth, which was to protect their wife and families.
In a slightly different category we can find the lies told by presidents Richard Nixon and George Bush (Sr), which have become infamous. President Nixon said: “I am not a crook” and little more need be said on that matter.
Similarly, President Bush Sr said: “Read my lips, no new taxes,” and thereafter set about unleashing increasing income tax in a way that was not dissimilar to his predecessors and successors.
At the crux of this problem is an American fixation that politicians should be held to higher moral standards than the average person would themselves adhere to, and until they adjust their expectations they will continue to lose “good” politicians by focusing on issues that are entirely irrelevant.  
This author tends to be considerably more pragmatic and would therefore assume that politicians will behave like the rest of us, because they are like the rest of us.
Like us, they should be entitled to private frolics.
I am challenged to understand why anyone seeing a semi or fully nude picture of Congressman Weiner would as a result have less confidence in his legislative ability.  
Certainly, some commentators appear to have been impressed or unimpressed for entirely different reasons, and this is exactly why we need to separate the moral and political realms and seek our moral guidance elsewhere.
 Peter W. Wickham ([email protected]) is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES).