There's a lot that has been, can and will be said about former Congressman Anthony Weiner, now running for mayor of New York City, and former New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer in the days and weeks to come. Their behavior has been so crude, so rude and so bizarre that it constitutes unending fodder for the New York tabloids – one of which is owned by the publisher of this magazine – and they are likely to move off the topic of sex only if both are defeated in the upcoming Democratic primary.
For all the attention that the "sex" is receiving, the issue is actually one of public trust. Kristin Davis, the former "madam" who is running for New York City Comptroller on the Libertarian party line, has repeatedly intimated that there is far more to Spitzer's story than he has chosen to as yet make public.
She ought to know, having spent a few months as a "guest of the state" as a consequence of her role in running the escort service the former governor of New York used to procure his partners in his escapades outside his marriage.
Weiner, even more egregiously, was forced to admit Tuesday that he had continued inappropriately "sexting" women even after having been caught at it while a member of Congress, which led to his resignation. Shockingly, the timeline seems to indicate his misbehavior continued not only after he departed Washington but while the whole scandal was unfolding, making his apology and his admission of guilt something of a fraud.
Back in the 1990s, James Carville and other Democrats proved they were masters of the art of spin when they managed to persuade a sufficient number of American voters that the Clinton scandals were all about sex and nothing more. Therefore, their logic went, the president should not face sanction or removal from office over what he did with or to Paula Jones or Monica Lewinsky or anyone else. Since most Americans probably considered the fact that he had to remain married to Hillary punishment enough, they let it slide.
The same is not true for either Spitzer or Weiner. True, their indiscretions both involve sex and, equally true, their wives are continuing to stand behind them. We do not yet know if it is because they continue to support them or that they are simply establishing the leverage needed for a good strong shove in front of an oncoming A train. It needs to be said that it is not character flaws that disqualify Spitzer or Weiner from holding public office; it is their apparent failure to tell the truth while pretending to be doing just that.
George Bernard Shaw famously said that in a democracy people get exactly the government they deserve. This is largely true, as the people of Detroit, Michigan, are discovering now that the financial chickens have come home to roost after nearly 60 years of mismanagement. For the people to be able to choose wisely, they must be able to depend on the candor of the candidates running, the obvious and notable exception being the deserved cynicism with which all politicians are rightly viewed.
When a man – or woman – makes a try for political redemption on the grounds that they have made a clean break with their misdeeds and are a changed person, it needs to be true. In Spitzer's case, it may be – though some allege this is not the case, and those allegations should be investigated thoroughly. In Weiner's case it is apparently not, and he should drop out of the race because of it. The public trust is a surprisingly delicate thing upon which to rest a democratic republic, but this is what the founders chose to do. The political class abuses that trust at its own peril. And, sometimes, enough is enough.