The XX Factor

Weiner’s Biggest Mistake?

At The New Yorker ’s Close Read blog, Amy Davidson elaborates on former Rep. Anthony Weiner’s recklessness. He hurt his constituents, followers, party, and family, including his pregnant wife, she notes. “[A] t the juncture in his life when he was called on to be the most protective of himself and his family, he was the least so. This is not about judging him as a husband-really, we know too much about his intimate life already-but judging him as a rater of risk. He is not a very good one.”

Weiner’s resignation has of course proven Davidson correct. Nevertheless, I imagine Weiner thought of his virtual dalliances quite the opposite-as a way of mitigating risk, not amplifying it. Imagine that you’re infamously lusty Anthony Weiner. But you don’t cheat. You don’t visit prostitutes or ex girlfriends. You don’t pick up interns or go trawling at the Capitol Hill bars. You flirt with women online and rationalize it to yourself as the safest way to get your jollies, without hurting anyone or breaking any rules. To you, it’s basically a more interactive version of looking at porn, and you see it as relatively risk-free.

There’s a good argument, of course, that it should have been, and it is our own prurience that led to this whole dumb scandal. Much like former Rep. Chris Lee, Weiner didn’t break any laws. He didn’t break the House ethics rules. He didn’t abuse his power. And he didn’t actually cheat. Whatever he did should be between him and his family, and if his constituents want to cast them out at the next election, that is their prerogative. (Contrast this with former Pres. Bill Clinton, who abused the power of his office to have an actual affair with a White House intern . That behavior is still shocking 15 years later.)

In the end, chalk Weiner’s downfall to two things, then. First, foremost, being himself. Any public figure too stupid or too cavalier to recognize that sending strangers photographs of yourself from your personal account might not be the best idea needs to think about not being a public figure anymore. Second, more importantly, alienating his colleagues. Congress could have gotten along fine with Weiner there, I think. But clearly, Weiner’s associates wanted to push him out.