Does New York City really want a mayor who goes by the alias "Carlos Danger" while he's trolling for cybersex partners online?
The hand-wringing over so-called "sex scandals" has generally been this: is it fair to judge a person by his or her private life? Are we projecting our own guilt and shame over our own sexual desires on our political leaders, expecting them to uphold a standard that is not only inhuman but unnatural? Isn't it really about whether they broke the law, as opposed to whether or not they did something many people would find a little distasteful?
It is indeed silly and unfair to bar someone from office for having an affair or engaging in sexual activity that ultimately is no one's business. And there are those who think it's fine to patronize prostitutes (voters re-elected Louisiana Senator David Vitter even after he showed up on a list of johns, and disgraced former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer is running for office again). That's a more difficult issue, not just because of the disrespect for the law, but because the behavior suggests they see women as commodities.
But in the case of Anthony Weiner, who apparently has broken no laws and who has victimized no one except his wife – who, remarkably, says she has forgiven him – there is an entirely new question. Is this someone who will put the needs of New York City above his own outsized ego?
Weiner, forced to resign after it was revealed he had texted racy photos of himself to women on the Internet, is at it again. An unidentified woman has released evidence (which Weiner has not disputed) indicating that the mayoral candidate continued to send really cringe-worthy texts – and participated in "phone sex" with her – even after a sheepish-looking Weiner resigned. It went on even as Weiner was trying to recreate himself in the media, sitting down with the New York Times Magazine and People and talking about how he'd become a new man, a new dad who was devoted to his wife and baby son.
It's not even that he was lying. And it's not that he was victimizing women on the Internet (lie down with dogs; get up with fleas. These women knew who he was, knew he was married with a new baby and knew what they were getting into). It's that his behavior displays a level of narcissism (the alias "Carlos Danger"? What is he, 14?) that does not bode well for someone seeking elected office.
It's called public service for a reason. Elected officials are asked to give up a lot – too much, sometimes – in their roles. Even members of Congress, suffering abysmally low approval ratings, make a great deal of sacrifices when it comes to family time and personal privacy. Much of that is unreasonable.
It is not unreasonable to expect someone seeking the job of leading the biggest city in the country to put his city's needs ahead of his own. This isn't an isolated case, or some random example of an elected official displaying a weak moment. When former New York GOP congressman Chris Lee was found to have texted a shirtless photo of himself to a woman on the Internet, there was no pattern or crude sexual component to it. You got the impression not that Lee was seeking some second life as someone's cybersex partner, but rather that he was just a little sad and unhappy, and wanted some woman on the Internet to tell him he was cute.
Even as Bill Clinton's behavior offended a lot of people, he was still clearly committed to helping the country (whether one agrees with his approach to helping the country is another question, of course). Clinton was indiscreet and displayed poor judgment, to say the least, but he didn't give the impression of someone who sought office for pure personal ambition alone.
Weiner's behavior is almost pathologicial, with him continuing to send explicit (to say the least) communications to anonymous women. The sheer audacity of that, the tempting of fate, raises questions about the sorts of risks he would take as mayor – this time with the city, and not just his personal future and family life, at stake.
It's not just about whether New York wants a mayor whose rather gross sexual come-ons are online for everyone – visiting foreign leaders and colleagues at the U.S. Conference of Mayors – to see. It's whether New York wants to elect someone for whom the race is all about him.