How Love Corrupts: The Story of a Weiner, an Anwar, and a Frenchman 12 Jun By Christopher Badeaux new ledger
The story on the wind, as I write this, is that Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-NY) is contemplating resignation as more details emerge of his online conversations with what tentatively appears to be a veritable corps of women aged 17 to 40. I hold no particular love for Congressman Weiner — his policy positions are impressively even more abhorrent than his personality, a feat that is comparable to identifying which of the Twelve Labors was harder — but if this is true, it either shows a sincere understanding of the enormous damage he has done to his constituents, his caucus, and the House to which he was elected; or a keen awareness that he will be persona non grata even in his own caucus for the rest of this term.
Either way, assuming there’s any truth to this story, this is a stunning level of self-awareness from a politician, especially one who has been babied by a favorable press corps for basically the entirety of his elected career.
The danger to a politician inclined to indulge his darker proclivities is not power. Power in modern nations, outside of a relative handful of non-democratic states, is fleeting and unstable. It’s not wealth. It’s love, the sort of love one gets for fulfilling others’ dreams for them, saying what they cannot or will not, and basically acting as their avatar in some public policy realm. All can be forgiven for an idol. Popular athletes internalized this lesson decades ago, but popular politicians have had it down since the Roman Republic.
Anthony Weiner has benefited from a media that loved to hear him speak — whether because he reminded them of Chuck Schumer, or because he said what they wanted to but wouldn’t, or because he would talk to them at any hour anywhere — and that media brought him places no ordinary Congressman from New York City would ordinarily reach. His Twitter followers — who later became his camp followers — came from across the country. He came to them as a standard-bearer for a kind of liberalism not really likely to succeed outside the Northeast and the Pacific Coast, the answer to their frustrated dreams in a sea of people who thought their political leanings mildly nutty. They loved him for it, they worshiped him for it, and it was that love, that worship, that brought him to relentlessly cheat on his wife (any woman who tells you that online sex with another woman is not cheating is lying to you); because if everyone loves you, how can you do wrong?
I’ve made no secret of the fact of my distaste for Anwar Ibrahim, and not just because he’s the Muslim Brotherhood’s kept man, and not just because his choice of coalition partners includes a band of hardcore socialists and Islamists who regretted not being able to shoot Americans during the invasion of Afghanistan. But I will freely confess that he is a terribly interesting person — and one clearly suffering from the same encompassing wave of uncritical love that enabled Congressman Weiner to telegraph his eponymous body part to any woman he felt would want to see it.
In Anwar’s case, that love — from Western media and politicians who should know better, from Malaysian websites that uncritically regurgitate his talking points, from his bands of loyal followers — has at the very least deluded him into a sort of messianism, where the democratically elected government of Malaysia is Olympus to his Prometheus. At the worst, if the allegations against him are true, it has led him to believe that forced sodomy and infidelity are excusable for him.
Anwar is fascinating not for his apparent proclivity to do vile things — small men do small things, and there are many small men in the world — but for the uncritical love he inspires from men who should know better, and how he reinforces that love while allegedly doing terrible things; the reinforced love simply provides him another buffer to continue the range of behaviors that make him so vile. Like Dominique Strauss Kahn, whose alleged proclivities to serial infidelity and at times (still allegedly!) brutalization of women were quietly known and ignored or excused, Anwar has generated the sort of blind loyalty that leads men to suicide charges into set pike formations. Strauss-Kahn is a complete puzzle, a short, dumpy man possessed of neither good looks nor telegenic charm, who has nevertheless apparently managed to gain a reputation as a Lothario (a feat comparable Michael Moore winning acclaim as a dieting expert) and qho nearly rose to the highest levels of power in French politics. Anwar and Weiner at least know the value of making the cameraman feel like you’re smiling just for him.
But to bring this back to Congressman Weiner, if he really is contemplating resignation, it would be because he realizes his job — which relies on the trust of his colleagues and his public — is in ruins, and his marriage likely has its share of problems as well. We should applaud him for this act of decency. Anwar and Strauss-Kahn, by comparison, appear to lack even this redeeming feature; the latter has lawyered up and is apparently slurring his accuser in the press, while the former drags his wife and party through his self-imposed Hell, blaming everyone but himself for his predicament.
That people of good faith who should know better feel inclined to help them continue their rampage through their personal and political lives does not mean the rest of us should. It would be better for all concerned if they would take that minimal stock Congressman Weiner apparently has, and realize that sometimes, the cost of power is too much, no matter how much the crowds love you — or in their cases, because of how much the crowds love you.