The XX Factor

No, It’s Time for Our Elected Officials To Grow Up

Amanda , I disagree about who needs to grow up in the Anthony Weiner scenario. Were the reporters embarrassing? They were. But let’s not lose track of the real issue, which is that talking about political figures and their various sexual idiocies has begun to feel like talking about my 5-year-olds and their inability to control their baser instincts.

There’s a common parenting moment when, in a fit of experience-induced frustration, you haul your kids aside before you enter a store and rant. “Don’t,” you say, “touch anything without asking. Don’t hover your hand over things and say ‘I’m not touching it! I’m not touching it!’ Don’t push your brother into the table with the display of plates and glasses. Don’t spin. Don’t climb. Don’t lean. Don’t run.” At this point, you usually notice a few older mothers looking on, nodding and chuckling, and you play to the crowd a little. “Don’t hang from the edge of things or crawl under things or brush your fingertips along things. Just walk. Just walk into the store and look at the things and stand there while I buy whatever it is I came for and then walk out, like regular people.” And it’s kind of funny, and you know it, but that doesn’t mean you don’t mean it. Why can they not just behave in this one public way? Extrapolate that if last time, the blue mug that slipped out of their hands when they were “just lookin’ at it” broke into a million pieces, the red mug might do the same? How many times do we have to go over this?

I am imagining lining up every male politician in the country for the same conversation. First, the basics. No cheating on your spouse. Blow jobs count as cheating. No prostitutes. No soliciting prosititutes. No male prosititutes, no female prostitutes, no transgender prostitutes, no any kind of prostitutes. There simply are no exceptions to this. No paying people who are also having sex with you for anything at all, including carrying your luggage or making promotional videos. And, of course, no nude pictures, no lewd emails. This is a computer/iPhone/BlackBerry; you must consider every single thing you do with it to be public. It has a camera. You should keep the lens of the camera facing out at all times if any part of you that would normally be covered while in a Dunkin’ Donuts is not fully clothed.

I could go on, obviously. It wouldn’t do any more good, though, than my list of warnings for the 5-year-olds on the tempting shopping trip. Every 5-year-old who picks up a shiny mug thinks he won’t break it, and every man who takes a picture of his favorite toy and tweets it out into the ether thinks he won’t get caught.

Anthony Weiner should resign. He should resign, not because what he did was that bad, or even just because he lied about it in particularly stupid ways. He should resign because voters are tired of having this conversation. Because if your brother smashed a shelf’s worth of coffee mugs yesterday, you are going to be punished just for touching one today. It happened to Chris Lee. It should happen to Weiner. It’s not that we as a nation are unusually Puritan in our views on marriage; it’s that we are tired of being taken for this particular ride.

Amanda, you suggested we should be “past” the idea of sexual fidelity, and that we should “allow couples to come to their own private understandings about how much extramarital activity is involved.” Although I disagree on a personal level, I don’t think that’s really the question. Sexual activity (of whatever kind) that falls outside the norms of married behavior but is within the bounds of acceptablity for a particular couple is one thing (and isn’t “cheating”). Hubris is another. So is simply being a nitwit. People, by which I mean voters, can tell the difference. Anthony Weiner has proven, in the language of a parent, that he’s not mature enough to behave responsibly. He’s forfeited the privilege of representing his electorate, and he should admit it and step aside.

Can he hang on? Emily , you’re right, he probably can. He can stubbornly sit out the furor and, amid unspoken admissions that “others have done worse” and “he’s pretty good about other things” and “if he resigns, it’s a lot of trouble,” he can surely see this through. And most kids, even though their parents told them that if they touched anything they would have to leave the store, will get no more than a scolding for a defiant poke at a mug. He’ll be fine. And within a month or two-surely by September-we’ll be having this exact same conversation about someone else.