And so Representative Anthony Weiner has admitted to some six online relationships over the past three years. He got caught red handed in one- the infamous Twitter picture- and only came clean after it became apparent other outlets had more damaging photos, texts, e-mails and Facebook messages. Whether these six relationships are the tip of the iceberg or the actual body count will surely be fleshed out in the coming months ahead.
The Internet is a wonderful thing. At the flick of a finger, one can get information on virtually any topic of interest. But, it can also lead to the troublesome behaviors in which Weiner now finds himself. In a very real way, the Internet, through social networking sites, allows people to reach out and form relationships with former classmates, college buddies, business partners, or anonymous strangers. In effect, the Internet has replaced the office water cooler flirtations of the past. Because of the perceived anonymity, the normal checks and balances that prevent those flirtations from developing into other relationships are obviously absent. One of the bigger questions in this episode is whether his behavior amounts to cheating on his spouse in the traditional sense. Although there was no sexual contact in the traditional sense, sending pictures of one's crotch over the Internet- whether as a joke or not- certainly indicates that the "relationship" was one of more than just flirting. It behooves one to understand the reasons one would want to take a picture of their crotch in the first place. In effect, there is a moral equivalence between the traditional act of adultery and the sending of these pictures. If nothing else, it shows a certain level of moral weakness on the part of the actors. Perhaps, people engage in online affairs for the same reasons they engage in traditional affairs. It is amusing that once caught, the reactions are the same- "heartfelt" sorrow usually followed by excuse-giving. In either case, it is illustrative of their own shortcomings.
Already, the liberal websites are reacting as expected- downplaying the incident, deflecting the thrust of the story, or providing excuses. Through downplaying it, some liberal editorials state that since Weiner has admitted the transgressions, we can now move on to the more important business of the country. Its telling that these very same websites, despite pressing national issues at the time, devoted a lot of space to Larry Craig and David Vitter's prostitution problem is invariably mentioned every time his name comes up on these sites. But, the liberal double standard is to be expected. It is also being depicted as a "private matter between him and his wife," the official line of Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the DNC. Through deflection, somehow Andy Breitbart and others are being demonized for what amounts to rather excellent online journalism. Breitbart, you may recall, is a name that induces apoplexy in liberals. And without a doubt, we will be hearing that Weiner suffers from some form of sexual addiction and they will trot out that old standby- Dr. Drew Pinsky- to explain how it is a growing problem in America. Just rewind the tapes to the Tiger Woods saga and save us the rest.
The importance of this affair is twofold. First, it is a window into the character and judgment of Anthony Weiner himself. Ultimately, it will be his constituents who will have the final say over his political career. Then again, we are talking about the Big Apple here, the same city that sent the ethically-challenged Charlie Rangel back to Congress in 2010. In my personal opinion, his handling of the events as they unfolded proves him to be a liar and opportunistic political hack devoid of a moral compass. I cannot fathom how he and others actually believe that the words "I'm sorry" somehow magically undo the damage done. If Weiner is truly sorry, he would resign his seat and save his wife the embarrassment an ethics investigation will surely entail. Again, how that plays out remains to be seen.
Secondly, imagine if Weiner was on the Intelligence Committee and he was engaging in this behavior. Imagine a foreign government learning of it and using it to blackmail him. Imagine some domestic company using this information to blackmail Weiner- or anyone- into voting for legislation that benefits them. The idea is not as ludicrous as it sounds. On the Politico website on the very page where this story was carried is another about hacked e-mail accounts of Congressional staff and members ostensibly traced to China. It is a very real possibility and classic espionage when you think about it. So, while Wasserman Schultz, the DNC and the liberal blogosphere can downplay the incident, the potential ramifications are very much real. That is one reason our Congressional leaders are held to a higher standard; they are not just ordinary humans like you and me. Their actions have more serious possibilities and undertones.
The two final thoughts are statements that Weiner made in his press conference. First, he stated that "as far as he knew," all these females were of age. Hopefully, they were although there are no guarantees that his suggestive banter was, in fact, reaching a legally of age audience. Even if it it was, I would suggest that there is something a little bizarre about a 46-year-old Congressman and 22-year-old co-ed engaging in this behavior. Or even if the person is 18- "of legal age"- Weiner is still old enough to be that girl's father. Secondly, as I mentioned earlier, intended joke or not, taking pictures of one's crotch and the uploading it to Twitter or whatever Internet service is a conscious act that does not happen in a vacuum. It is clear that his actions were more than intentional.
Perhaps, Weiner will resurrect his political career and this episode will blow over with time. He may even be the next mayor of New York City. If all else fails, he can be a political talk show host alongside Elliot Spitzer on CNN. Whatever the outcome, this is no time for gloating by us on the right (not that we are). The potential breaches are just as bad as the actual breaches of trust between Weiner and his wife. One would hope that whether done on personal phones and computers or government phones and computers, the next elected official will use the Internet not to engage in online affairs, but for the purpose Al Gore intended when he invented the Internet.