The strange case of Anthony Weiner: a story of morals and ethics in the political landscape
June 20, 2011 Leave a comment
Many have fallen into the extremely public pitfalls of social networking. When politicians- and more specifically, elected officials – are caught in a blatant misuse of Twitter and Facebook, this can range from sheer mockery to immediate, almost simultaneous resignation. The constant mix in the definition of morality in one given country versus an actual breach of political ethics has reached a severe degree of intensity in the case of Anthony Weiner, pushed to resignation by the former House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi. When President Barack Obama himself expressed that had he been Weiner, he would have resigned, the representative for New York City’s 9th district, a shining star in the House of Representatives, suffered a nervous breakdown. The following press coverage focused on whether the resignation was called for, and what lies ahead for one of the most popular Representatives in an age of political apathy.
New York City’s 9th district representative Anthony Weiner has been the shining star of the House of Representatives for the past year. A fervent supporter of single-payer health care who shamed Obama’s final bill because it wasn’t inclusive enough, a staunch advocate for 9/11 responders and often launching an aggressive offensive on Republicans, especially since John Boehner took over the role of Speaker, it is safe to say Weiner was one of the Democrats’ biggest asset in an election year that promised to need more than regular campaign promises: 201 Yesterday, said asset was forced out of office, citing his Twitter activities to be a “distraction” from his job as an elected official. In an election year, this is far from common, mundane political mishap. It’s bad news for the city of New York, bad news for the State, and definitely bad news for the Democratic Party which until now, was doing a relatively decent job staying out of tabloids’ headlines.
The question lies in whether one’s moral conduct is affecting, or cheating, on their sworn efficiency in office, and if said office is effectively tied to a code of ethical conduct. Two specific cases are brought to mind, and both are as far from Weiner’s situation as one can be.
Earlier this year, in February, Chris Lee, representative of the extremely Republican 26th district of New York, was the subject of an instantly popular article on New York City-centered gossip website Gawker. Chris Lee, a married man elected in the only district of New York State considered to be a permanent Republican seat, answered a Craigslist ad in the “dating” section with a shirtless picture of himself taken in his bathroom with his phone. Following the publication, Chris Lee immediately resigned – subsequently opening the door to a staunch race for his seat, now occupied by Kathy Hochul, a Democrat – in one of the most followed electoral race of the year. Outside of desperately seeking attention beyond the conjugal home, Lee is only guilty of having used an outlet so easily detectable and usable by the press. In regards to the political ethics transmitted by the GOP, Chris Lee made the necessary decision: attempting to find validation and potential affection through an online dating site does not find approval within the socially conservatives ranks of the Republican Party, attached to values of strong, male-and-female marriages, children, and christian morals of faith over lust. Within his district, never shying away from a right-wing move, Chris Lee knew he would never be re-elected or even endorsed by a colleague. However, whether this, again, affected his behaviour as local representative has never been assessed. The separation line between the politician and the man has been blurred and forever deleted the moment he decided he was no longer fit for office.
“Bill Clinton’s 1993 short brush with impeachment was such a national affair of dramatic proportions it consequently led to a code of morals in private conduct to be followed by any elected official”
Senator John Ensign, a Republican representative from Nevada, found himself in even more troubled waters last month. First suspected of having an affair with the wife of his campaign manager, the Senator decided to let the couple go, and have his parents write them a cheque for $96,OOO, qualified as a “gift”, but suspiciously respecting the perfect timing of them leaving Ensign’s side. A sex and lobbying scandal that first had Ensign remain in his position of Senator – after a race won over the sweat and blood of Tea Party’s favorite, Sharron Angle – before quickly turning around and making a swift exit on May 3rd. Ensign did everything he could to avoid a very public and potentially very damaging public hearing and probe by the Senate Ethics Committee, launching an investigation not only on unlawful lobbying – securing clients for his very own chief of staff – but more drastically on the allegations of corruption behind this infamous cheque. In a very telling article, local newspaper The Las Vegas Sun titled “How Moral Failure Brought Down Senator Ensign“, who had occupied his seat for eleven years, compares Ensign with the most famous case on the matter, that of Bill Clinton’s:
There are those who talk of Ensign’s fall from political grace, and the resignation that takes effect a week from Tuesday, with a hint of pleasure at the irony of the situation, brought about by the hypocrisy of his actions. There are others who will defend him as the consummate objective moralist, who when confronted with his own faults, heeded his own advice.
Ensign may not belong at either end of that ethical spectrum. Because the pendulum of Ensign’s moral purism, it seems, swings both ways.
Ensign certainly fell on the sword of family values — morals he’d spent much of his career espousing as absolute, and portraying himself as embodying.
But Ensign also voluntarily departed from the dogmatism of the values-conservative position more often than most, especially in the wake of his scandal.
Here lies the non-existing specificity of being an elected official: a state or federal representative owes to his or her constituency to uphold the rule of law, to vote in accordance with the Constitution, to be fair in its voting and to listen to their voices when a vote is to be passed. A representative does just that: it represents the people of the district, state, or nation he was voted in. A lawmaker, a policy-maker, a representative is not a judge nor an arbitrary. Bill Clinton’s 1993 short brush with impeachment was such a national affair of dramatic proportions it consequently led to a code of moral private conduct to be followed by any elected official from across the board. Once again, the thin line of office behaviour and private affairs is to be highlighted: Bill Clinton had an affair which, despite being consensual, was conducted in his position of President, with a female member of staff, and inside the walls of his own office. The same way Ensign started a sexual relationship with a member of his campaign staff and tried to shut her family down with money, the lines between office and private affairs were blurred to a point that called for an ethical inquiry. Whatever happened to Anthony Weiner has never affected neither his place of work or the content of his work per se. A call for moral cleanliness among the elected officials nationwide has been launched. This seems to lead to more corruption, misconduct, not from officials but also community and religious leaders.
In 2010, Alan Rekers was caught spending a vacation in Bermuda with a young man with whom he appeared to behave intimately. It would not be that bad of an issue if Rekers wasn’t the co-founder of the Family Research Council with James Dobson. The FRC, also parent company to Focus on the Family, is an anti-gay, pro-life, and generally extremely conservative lobby that has made itself clearly known the last few years for supporting anti-gay initiatives in the states proposing gay marriage on the ballot, and for financially covering any anti-abortion initiatives nationwide. Moreover, Rekers found his lover, Lucien, on the website rentboy.com, a notorious and infamous online gay escort service. Instead of facing up to his actions, which would obviously discredit Focus on the Family and their “family-oriented” values, Rekers claimed that he visited the website and met Lucien in Bermuda in order to “help with (his) luggage”. Despite the blatant hypocrisy, Rekers was not an elected official. The only people he had to answer to was the members of his parish and the FRC’s hierarchy. Because Rekers’ behaviour was specifically the strict opposite of what he had always preached, called for, and advocated, because Rekers’ lobbying company and religious affiliation is in strict opposition to relations of homosexual nature and in a broader way, of extra-marital affairs, Rekers has crossed the line in what is publicly acceptable in his leadership role. Weiner has yet to breach any of the rules of his own making as a Representative of Brooklyn and Queens, in his role as New York City progressive, as a member of Congress, and as a member of the Democratic Party.
” The fascination the public holds for misconduct is one that should never override the efficiency of the lawmaking sphere”
But what is it compared to dangerous and reckless conduct? A senator arrested for drunk driving, another slapped with corruption charges, a secretary of defense allegedly guilty of war crimes, a governor abandoning her role halfway through her mandate: those stories are being covered and conducted on the same level of gravity and scrutiny Anthony Weiner had to undergo in the last couple of weeks. Many have come in support of the Representative – and many have qualified the incident of ‘minor’, protecting privacy in the name of his achievements in Congress. Weiner surrendered to pressure claiming that his Twitter activities were a “distraction” to his real motivation. Considering the time span during which the direct messages were sent, Weiner had been successfully active in promoting the progressive agenda in Washington and had been relentless in his call for change in the institution. Whether his actions deserve a punishment sees his wife as the only judge. As a Democrat, Anthony Weiner had never supported any legislation on morality (or lack thereof), social conservatism, or anything that would see the federal government make a decision regarding a citizen’s family. Anthony Weiner may have acted in a way that is morally condemnable, but in no way were his actions unethical under the banner of his political mandate. The fascination the public holds for misconduct is one that should never override the efficiency of the lawmaking sphere; and if Anthony Weiner is one to hold himself accountable and step down in order to assuage a part of his constituency, it is only fair that Senators and Representatives who are themselves criminally negligent should also step down and release themselves in the hands of the relevant Ethics Committee. The witch hunt on personal conduct’s bottom line is morbid curiosity; political recklessness, however, is a public and national matter that belongs in the realm of civic pro-activism.