The New York Times Magazine has just published a lengthy profile of Anthony Weiner, the former Democratic representative from Queens who flamed out of Congress in spectacular fashion two years ago after he got caught sending women lewd pictures of himself on Twitter. Weiner initially claimed he’d been hacked; then issued a bizarre nondenial denial about whose genitals were in the infamous picture he accidentally sent to his 50,000 Twitter followers; then held an even more bizarre press conference that was hijacked by the late conservative activist Andrew Breitbart. And only then, thoroughly humiliated and disgraced, did he resign.
Now Weiner wants back in. This isn’t news, exactly. Word that he had spent $100,000 on polling began spreading a couple of weeks ago. Then came the faint, premonitory rumors of the big Times piece. Now that piece has arrived, and its content, as well as its very existence, leaves no doubt that Weiner is aching to run for office again.
Cooperating with an 8,000-word profile that plumbs the emotional depths of what it was like for Weiner and his wife, Huma Abedin, to endure the dong-shot maelstrom that engulfed the couple and captivated the political world for a couple of weeks is an important step toward that goal. It’s what another New York Times Magazine writer, Mark Leibovich, would call a “foundational story” that establishes for the public record Weiner’s regret at having humiliated his pregnant wife and embarrassed his constituents. This is necessary in order for him to “move beyond” the scandal, as politicians like to say, and run for New York City mayor.
And Weiner copiously supplies this regret. He examines his transgression from almost every angle, chokes up, cries a bit, and then barrels ahead with more regret. What he does not do is provide any reason for why New Yorkers would want to elect him mayor. And the author, Jonathan Van Meter, who is riveted by this effusion of regret, doesn’t step out of Barbara Walters mode and demand one. Weiner’s political plight is considered purely as a tactical and emotional matter—he’ll lose his campaign war chest if he doesn’t spend it soon, he’ll forever be remembered as a creep if he doesn’t manage to get himself elected to something.
The closest anyone comes to pointing out that Weiner will need to provide a reason beyond his own emotional well-being to get elected mayor is a quote from an anonymous political consultant who reasonably points out, “Sure, voters can get past his scandal. But why do they have to? There are four established candidates. Who are the voters who say, ‘I need Anthony Weiner back?’”
The fact that Weiner can even consider a comeback—and be taken seriously by the likes of the New York Times—is further evidence to support my contention that the political-sex-scandal-as-automatic-career-ender is a thing of the past. But that doesn’t excuse a disgraced politician from the basic demands of running for office. One reason Weiner has so few friends is that most members of Congress, including his fellow Democrats, regarded him as chiefly concerned with his own aggrandizement—he spent more time shouting at Republicans on cable television than legislating. Given how that turned out for him, you might imagine he’d be especially eager to show some substance. You’d imagine New York City voters would want to see that, too.