Wednesday, June 08, 2011
The rise and ultimate fall of Rep. Anthony Weiner's once-brilliant political career has many elements of a classic Greek tragedy, where the highly ambitious, competent, powerful protagonist suffers a horrible fate. In Weiner's case, there are many avenues through which to explain his self-destructive behavior. Any one of them, or all of them, might shed light on why men like Weiner work so hard to achieve the pinnacle of success yet repeatedly and willfully throw away their spoils through scandalous actions.
Let's start with power. Power corrupts, they say. Do men like Weiner think their unique position in business or government insulates them from the same legal and/or moral standards heaped on the rest of society? Do they think they're above the law? Above reproach or prosecution? Has their power so corrupted them that they don't even think their actions are unethical or illegal, or even subject to scrutiny or criticism? Discussing Watergate with David Frost, Richard M. Nixon infamously claimed "When the President does it, that means it is not illegal." The Bushies also used a variation of this when defending the use of torture.
Dovetailing from power is entitlement. These guys may believe that they deserve to abuse the law and engage in all sorts of illicit activity because of their patriotic service to country. That their dedication and devotion, and myriad personal sacrifices they're making, somehow entitle them to monetary and/or sexual 'treats' as a trade-off. Perhaps these guys think their role in government excuses and//or justifies the extras.
Narcissism plays a key role as well. This behavior, according to FreeDictionary.com, can be defined in several ways: (1) Excessive love or admiration of oneself; (2) A psychological condition characterized by self-preoccupation, lack of empathy, and unconscious deficits in self-esteem; (3) Erotic pleasure derived from contemplation or admiration of one's own body or self, especially as a fixation on or a regression to an infantile stage of development. In Weiner's case, one could argue that all three conditions apply. His wanton disregard for his wife's feelings; his unabashed use of social media websites to transmit sexually charged text and lewd photographs; and his obvious insecurities and clear exaggerated desire to be desired are classic traits of a narcissist. There are even elements of his raging narcissism in his bizarre press conferences this week where he seems so enamored of the mike and camera still, rambling on and on as if he's loving all the attention, whether it's been good or bad.
But Weiner's behavior might simply be the result of an overpowering compulsion. I suspect that over the years he's sexually 'chatted/texted/emailed' with many more than the six women he's confessed to contacting. I suspect that he's probably kissed his wife Huma Abedin goodnight on most nights, and then repaired to his home office to 'work' into the wee hours all the while trolling the Internet for women to cyberplay with. By his own admission, he's been committing e-adultery for years, even before he met and married her. It's hard to believe therefore that his 'virtual' sexual escapades involve just six women. I suspect that Weiner simply couldn't help himself. Like most addicts, he probably hated what he was doing, knew it was highly improper, immoral and possibly illegal and could cost him his family and his career, and that he needed to hit rock-bottom in order to begin contemplating seeking help.
Given the sudden shock and awe of WeinerGate and its bigger implications politically, about social media and to society in general, there's been a lot of questions raised these past few days. One of them is, how could he be so stupid in doing the same sort of thing Rep. Chris Lee did just months ago? The married Lee resigned immediately after posting a half naked photo of himself on Craigslist to attract women for sex. His behavior cost his party a historically solid Republican seat in his upstate New York district.
But listen, you can take a drug addict down to the morgue and show him 5 other addicts who just OD'd. He'll say, 'wow, that's too bad,' and then walk out and score some more dope. Merely seeing dead addicts won't make him stop. He has to want to stop. He has to want a better life for himself and be willing and committed to taking the necessary steps do so.
To be sure, Weiner is not alone. The list of adulterous politicians, and those who've engaged in risky sexual behavior, is quite long. In recent history alone there's Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, Bob Livingston, George H.W. Bush, Bob Barr, Henry Hyde, Mark Foley, David Vitter, Larry Craig, John Ensign, Mark Sanford, Elliot Spitzer, John Edwards, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dominique Strauss-Kahn and others, and there'll certainly be more to come. The internet's become a real game-changer. It's redefining 'adultery.' Sex scandals no longer need actual, physical sex. Will social media and its expansive access unleash a torrent of future scandals as the boundaries and floodgates of cheating have opened wide? Is the temptation from this access so great, and the draw of a perceived comfortable, secure, sit-at-home anonymity while 'cheating' so alluring, that even those who might never stray in traditional ways are now susceptible to 'infidelity'?