Anthony Weiner got caught† doing exactly what we already knew Anthony Weiner likes to do last week, and once again he became a hot news story. His wife, Huma Abedin, announced they’d be separating, and Showtime, possibly capitalizing on the SEO value of “Anthony Weiner,” took the opportunity to announce the premiere date for Weiner, the must-see documentary that follows his 2013 campaign for mayor of New York. Which was, if we’re keeping track, also undone by relentless boner stories.
Having been through it a few times now, Anthony Weiner coverage follows a well-established pattern at this point — first weiner puns, then thinkpieces.
“What Drove Anthony Weiner To Destroy Himself?“ asked Politico. “Does Narcissism Explain Anthony Weiner’s Downfall?“ wondered New York. “Is Sexting An Addiction?“ pondered the The Washington Post. If you can find “Anthony Weiner” and a question mark in a headline, it’s a pretty safe bet that there’s some armchair psychiatry going on. We have to find out What Went Wrong! Not with us, mind you, but with this screwed up sicko who can’t stop doing positively inexplicable things like flirting with babes online.
What kind of compulsion drives someone like Weiner? Sexting, or exchanging intimate text and images online, is increasingly popular behavior, almost normalized, but it’s an awfully high-risk practice for a public figure like the former New York congressman, who was married to Hillary Clinton’s closest aide. In Weiner’s case, the behavior is so reckless it defies logic. [Politico]
“What could possibly drive Anthony Weiner to engage in such reckless, logic-defying behavior that is also very popular and basically normal!”
We keep wondering “What’s wrong with Anthony Weiner,” but the pathology that’s most peculiar to me is the way we keep being surprised over things we knew all along. Is this real surprise or just feigned surprise in the service of easy clicks? Even if it’s mostly the latter, it’s still preying on the psychology of the former. This is at least the third wave of Anthony Weiner sexting revelations (the first one brought about his resignation for congress in 2011, the second torpedoed his 2013 mayoral run). At what point does “Anthony Weiner likes to flirt with babes online” cease being a revelation? Especially since he’s not even a candidate anymore, just a dude who uses Twitter flirting like the rest of us use porn.
“What drives Anthony Weiner” is a dumb question (say it with me: HE LIKES. TO FLIRT. WITH BABES ONLINE.), but asking how a politician — a politician! Of all people! — could be so reckless, might be even dumber. Have we actually convinced ourselves that Anthony Weiner is a special case? Emblematic, maybe, but not an outlier.
One of the reasons Weiner is so brilliant is that it promises a portrait of a politician, but mostly delivers a portrait of politics. (Incidentally, Lawrence O’Donnell comes out looking like much more of an asshole than Anthony Weiner, imo.) We watch as Anthony Weiner spends probably 90 percent of his waking life cold calling, fund raising, schmoozing, glad-handing, and generally begging rich people for money. Because that’s what getting elected requires (along with answering New York Post reporters’ questions about your favorite Post headline mocking you, apparently). And neither Weiner nor the mayorship of New York City are special cases in this regard.
A 2012 episode of This American Life on the subject, “Take The Money And Run For Office,” dealt similarly with the nuts and bolts of modern politics. Here are some excerpts from that:
Dick Durbin [Democratic Senator from Illinois]: I think most Americans would be shocked — not surprised, but shocked — if they knew how much time a United States senator spends raising money. And how much time we spend talking about raising money, and thinking about raising money, and planning to raise money. And, you know, going off on little retreats and conjuring up new ideas on how to raise money. […]