Peter Beinart, who I'm debating tomorrow in New York City (details here, including FREE BOOZE), thinks the junk-obsessed, cape-and-tights rehab Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-New York), should not resign. In fact, the crotch-grabbing locker-room self-portaiteur deserves our empathy:
We love to see the powerful humiliated because it proves that they were no better than us to begin with. Yet we simultaneously imagine that because they're powerful and famous, they don't need the empathy that we'd desire were we in their stead. Instead of being moved by their suffering, we revel in it. [...]
Columnists and talk show hosts who obsess over trivialities such as Weinergate should be called out by their peers. And politicians asked about their consensual sex lives by journalists should say that they will answer on condition that the reporters and their editors answer the same questions about theirs. I hope Anthony Weiner figures out his private life; but even more, I hope he survives in public life. Someone needs to stand up to the media mobs that are making American politics both vicious and small. If he has the courage to do so, maybe others will follow.
While I'm touched by Beinart's concern for the powerful versus the lowly "mobs," my empathy-meter just cannot survive this: In the course of relentlessly lying about his recklessly juvenile activities, Weiner hypothesized, with an unforgiveable alarmism matched only by an unlimited self-regard, that "maybe it will turn out that this is the point of Al Qaeda's sword." He also reportedly had the fool-me-twice gall to tell supporters that this was all part of yet another alleged "vast right-wing conspiracy."
I'm with Gene Healy on this: "Not only are political sex scandals great fun, they serve an important social purpose. They remind us that we should think twice before we cede more power to these clowns." And as for Beinart's complaint about obsessing "over trivialities," Healy again cut to the quick: "[H]ere on earth, Weinergate's mainly crowding out more coverage of Sarah Palin's bus tour." Which has since been supplanted by Sarah Palin's boring e-mails.
I'd be happy if the typical politician's approach to his family/personal life was "none of your business." Here at Reason we have long cheered those lonely few politicians who have allowed their spouses to be non-political. But most politicians do make their family lives our business, by campaigning on them, threatening to give their spouses quasi-official duties, and/or invoking family values for various restrictions on our liberty. Of all those who cross that line, surely the ones deserving the least amount of empathy are those who do their tawdry business on company time, in the workplace, and then go out and sanctimoniously lie their faces off about it.