Busy Doing Nothing (Except Winning Elections)

Former Rep. Anthony Weiner speaks to voters in New York City on May 23, 2013 after announcing his bid for mayor.

Photo by TIMOTHY CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

I’m about to take off for two weeks (exciting details at the end of the day! Actually, not that exciting, but definitely at the end of the day) and didn’t want to disapparate without mentioning the Anthony Weiner renaissance. His campaign launch, which was mostly covered for its schlock value, touched on something that voters who don’t cover Congress all the time probably don’t know. Weiner says he “campaigned for real health reform”—true! But his version of campaigning backfired enormously on more strategy-minded liberals.

The ideal Weiner bill never got a vote, and Democrats dropped it before their November 2009 passage of the “public option” package. The debate moved to the Senate. There, liberals were attempting to add a “Medicare buy-in” to the bill, letting people under the retirement age pay to enter the system. Weiner endorsed it. “Extending this successful program to those between 55 and 64,” he said, “a plan I proposed in July, would be the largest expansion of Medicare in 44 years and would perhaps get us on the path to a single payer model.”

Liberals fumed, because Weiner – for what, a spot on a TV show? – had given away their blueprints. Within a week, Sen. Joe Lieberman (who’d backed a Medicare buy-in during his 2004 presidential campaign) bailed, telling reporters that “Congressman Weiner made a comment that Medicare-buy in is better than a public option, it’s the beginning of a road to single-payer,” and he was spooked. Perhaps Lieberman, whose final term was a symphony of dyspepsia, was always going to cut the rug out from under fellow Democrats. But Weiner’s grandstanding didn’t help.

Sex scandals are sort of a blind spot for me. There’s a school of thought that Weiner’s punishment was several leagues of magnitude greater than the crime; I think I agree. But I just watched Mark Sanford turn a race from policy into a self-help exercise, the sex issue so dazzling that it obscured everything else. Let’s not do that again? Please?