June 09, 2011

The Judgment of Rep. Weiner

My former roommate, who was also my maid of honor and has consumed more of my turkey soup than anyone but my husband, left a comment on my prior post on the reaction to Weiner's "sex scandal" that I think is worth addressing at length (in no small part because she asks me to, and I hate to say no to Shari). So here is the meat of her comment and my reactions.

But there's a few things Not connected (at least, in my own head yet) to prudery that Still make me want him to step down.

One thing worth noting here is the prudery under discussion isn't necessarily the prudery of an individual. One effect of the overall background prudery in effect has been to narrow the options and ideas that even come to mind when we think about these issues.

Poor impulse control.

We don't actually know this. Evidence of a mistake is not always evidence of poor planning. He may have thought this through, decided it made sense for his situation, and still bungled the execution.

Utter lack of concern (or was it freaking AWARENESS of concern) for what his family would go through 'if he was caught'.

Again, we don't know this. People who take on "alternative" sexual and relationship arrangements are well aware that there is risk involved. That's why there's a closet. That's why these things are conducted in private. But that doesn't mean that the risk hasn't been weighed and found to be more than balanced by the ability to be true to one's own desires. Let's face it. If that ability were a trivial thing, human history would be hugely different.

Whether right or wrong - and if prudery is being used as a cultural straightjacket, we can all probably assume Wrong! - he knows that politicians are under intense scrutiny, as they represent other people.

Actually, this is new. I recommend reading Marcotte's piece on Alternet on this for some recent historical perspective. If you need more examples, consider that Norm Coleman's mistress was considered non-news for both his Senate campaigns (as, sadly, was his reputation for sexual assault). FDR, JFK, and LBJ's affairs (to stick to the monogrammed presidents) are matters of history, known but irrelevant during their tenures. You can say times were different then, but that doesn't explain why Bush the Elder's mistress was considered only a matter of gossip. To go back further, Cleveland's possible illegitimate child (actual paternity unknown) was acknowledged in his run for the presidency but not a deciding factor.

Private matters used to be considered private unless they were evidence of hypocrisy and often even then. This is new.

And they are held to high standards. Or, at least, I hold them to high standards - especially of judgement.

Well, except we don't hold our politicians to high standards. If we did, we'd get serious about the Citizens United ruling so that corporations have a tougher time buying them. We'd do something so people weren't always talking about voting for the lesser of two evils. We'd hold them accountable for their campaign promises instead of expecting them to be broken.

Holding politicians to high standards only for private decisions that have no impact on our lives is a clear signal of prudery to me. And while any individual may not fit that description, the fact that a consensual dick pic is news and Justice Thomas's hidden conflicts of interest aren't stinks of that background prudery.

I'm guessing he thought he could manage any fallout if this ever became public. We see how well That turned out.

Given the historical treatment of extramarital sex in politicians, I'm not sure that was a bad assumption going in. It doesn't seem to have taken him very long, though, to figure out that nothing but the full truth was going to suffice in this situation.

That amazing level of arrogance in his initial denials screams of his desire for celebrity, without responsibility.

I'm all for lying my face off if someone decides that my private business is their public business. Well, actually, I'm not, but that's mostly because I'm a skewer-with-detailed-truth kind of gal. Still, I completely support it in others. Serving one's country is not the same thing as giving the American population a free pass into one's bedroom (or wherever else one wants to flirt or fuck). It's a pity it didn't work.

And that kind of judgement in his personal life makes me question his judgement on national issues.

Here Weiner has a record. Twelve years of national record, six years in New York before that. And that record is excellent, particularly on the topics of women's health (sexual and otherwise) and sexual freedoms. I have no reason to doubt his record because he screwed up using Twitter.

The point at which compulsive behaviour threatens your job - and this qualifies, I think, you need to put it in check.

What's compulsive? Why compulsive? The fact that you and most of the people you know would need something as strong as a compulsion to behave that way means that this is behavior you find wrong for you. That's fine, but it's not a universal. Someone who doesn't consider this behavior immoral or otherwise wrong doesn't need to be compulsive to do something natural to them.

Would I be as disgusted if this guy weren't married? Not quite, because the whole point of marriage is to forsake all others (not discussing polygamy here.), and if you want to do gross tweets, don't friggin' get married because your spouse will be understandably pissed. Poor judgement.

Actually, the purpose of marriage is to build a life together and to have that life recognized by your friends, family, and society. Beyond that, it varies. I know a number of people in very strong marriages (some of the strongest I know, but not all, so no use guessing) who never promised monogamy or who decided that monogamy was either not necessary or actively harmful to their marriages.

And really, we don't ever forsake all others. Marriages happen within a community. We have friends who meet some of our emotional needs so our partners don't carry them all. We have people around us who share values and interests that our partners don't. We have flirtations, the vast majority of them without any intent to go beyond flirting. We maintain lots of degrees of intimacy with people other than our partners.

Some people simply find that allowing sexual and romantic relationships with people other than their partners is, for them, a reasonable step in the same direction. They're nothing like pissed. The people who don't aren't necessarily prudes, but deciding that all marriages have to be composed of the same boundaries and arrangements that yours are is a form of prudery.

Also, I've seen the picture that was tweeted. It's not gross. It doesn't make me want to jump the guy or anything, but I can kind of understand why he wanted someone else to see it.

Single people sexting (especially with that last name)are opening themselves up to blackmail - poor judgement if they are in the public eye.

There is only a risk of blackmail if there is secrecy. There is more likely to be secrecy in an atmosphere of prudery. If you're willing to do what Weiner did, to confess when the press decides this is the most pressing political issue of the day, you can't be blackmailed.

So, no. While I'm deeply concerned at the judgment of the press in this situation, Weiner's judgment, particularly as a legislator, bothers me not one bit.


Becca said...

It's poor judgement to get caught with your pants down. It's really rather silly to claim otherwise.

That said, 'good judgement' is not something any human being that actually exists has in all facets of life. It's situation-dependent. For example, I trust Carebear's judgement to a very large degree in matters of appropriate controls for molecular biology experiments, and not a whit in assessing the likelihood of aliens that have interacted with us.
I trust my own judgement on all manner of things- but not whether a particular person will be a great boss for me to work under (my judgement has been far too flawed in the past on that issue).

Based on what I learned, I wouldn't marry Weiner. That doesn't mean I wouldn't vote for him. And frankly, I question the judgement of anyone who can't see the difference between asking someone to be your husband and asking them to be your congressman.

Shari said...

#1 - I still dream of that turkey soup!
#2 - Prudery narrows options/ideas - agreed.
#3 P.I.C. - I'm not his psychiatrist, the behaviour sounds compulsive. I know zip about sexting people - this could have been premeditated - Good point. He's a public figure, and didn't really know the people he was tweeting to, I still say bad judgement here.

#4 - demonstrating apparent lack of concern for family/loved ones. His actions show his desires were more important than his fiance/wife. Agreed - we cannot know her position on this. Does that selfishness stop with personal matters?

#5 The media did a good job - I FORGOT about Coleman's mistress! Thinking on this point - thanks!

#6 High standards - yup, my acknowledged prudery definitely pushes my buttons on the topic of marriage. (thank you, starter marriage of mine.) What marriage means to me can't reflect values in every marriage. I don't understand how open marriages don't hurt the other partner, so I don't have one. (plus I hate sharing).

I perceive sexting as a juvenile 'look at me!' flirtation. It doesn't speak to me of maturity or judgement, and I'd rather not stinkin' KNOW about the dude's sexcapades. No thanks to the media for shoving this in our faces. He put the pictures out on social media himself. That the pics came to light isn't surprising to me - was it to him?

#7 compulsive - agree with your point. Still think it's juvenile at best, but you can say the same thing about my punning!

#6.5 - I think it's his future decision making, more than the personal-life decisions I'm questioning.

#8 - his past record is solid but the dude's personal decisions are juvenile at best (yes, IMO!) unthought-out at worst. Both are human - not evil or deviant. But if he doesn't want his personal life to become public - it doesn't belong on Twitter. Thinking he could manage his image, once in the hands of other people he barely knew is either naivete or arrogance.

Should we fire him for that? No. Is societal prudery making this a bigger deal than ought to be? Probably. Do I want him to step down? If it kept him from doing more harm than good - yes. But it doesn't mean that I think I can be the judge of that one.

Thanks for the great discussion - are you busy on Sunday? Coffee again sounds good to me :-)

Heather M. Rosa said...

Different strokes...

This country seems to want to forget that we are mostly all of us sexual beings, those who are not being considered aberrant. As such, we express ourselves in different ways, and some of us are lucky enough to find a partner who matches our particular quirks.

While most of us are private about what those quirks might be, some have the very quirk that makes us less private.

Keeping that in mind, what makes Rep. Weiner "news" is two things. First, he yielded to the rather natural impulse to try to hide the truth. He lied.

Second, he's a Democrat. If you want to see how that matters, look at Gingrich and his history of serial mistresses while the current wives are sick. Or David "diaper" "hooker" Vitter, whose proclivities are told in the nicknames, and yet who still holds office. Not only are the sex scandals much ignored if you're Republican, but so are the lies. Think "death panels" or the "WMDs" in Iraq.

Now those are lies truly worthy of national unrelenting press attention.

As for congress, I'd much rather have Weiner represent me than who I do have. Whether he makes good husband material is for his wife to decide, not us.

Philip H. said...

I think the prudery and prurient interest in the sex lives of our politicians - and the sujsequent calls for resignations by politicians who live in their own "Glass Houses" is as much about the loss of control many people feel as anything else. When you can't make a living, when you can't elect good people who will do the things that need doing, when you can't speak your mind because you don't have the cash to get anyone to listen - all these things and more add up to acting out on a collective scale. Sad - perhaps. Surprising - not to anyone who has spent more then five minutes studying history.

Anonymous said...

I really like what @Becca said:

"Based on what I learned, I wouldn't marry Weiner. That doesn't mean I wouldn't vote for him. And frankly, I question the judgement of anyone who can't see the difference between asking someone to be your husband and asking them to be your congressman."

I wouldn't marry Weiner either, but then, I'm not going to marry anyone else so it's a moot point. This is completely between him and his wife. If she has no issue with it, if it's part of their negotiated relationship, then WTF does anyone else have anything to say about it? If it's not part of their negotiations, then... WTF does anyone else have anything to say about it?

Whether we approve of the activity or not, it's none of our business, any more than if he liked anal sex or water sports or bass fishing. Or even NASCAR! It's none of our business.

Unfortunately, he didn't say this to the press. He lied about it. That's where his judgement was really poor. But frankly, completely understandable. If we were going to force members of congress to resign every time they lied about getting some, well, I suspect it would be a much emptier chamber.