Friday, June 24, 2011

The Big Weiner

Help! I have to pay taxes but I'm without representation in Congress. So are all the other poor heavily taxed voters in Congressional District 9. Our Congressman, Anthony Weiner, resigned over a sex scandal, or perhaps a non-sex, or just plain nonsense, scandal. It will be several months before we can have a special election for someone to warm Weiner's seat until the regular election in November 2012, by which time the district may well be gerrymandered out of existence in the mandated redistricting. New York is slated to lose two seats in the House of Representatives based on the results of the latest census.

Remember former Governor Eliot Spitzer? He too resigned over a sex scandal, when his patronizing of prostitutes (okay, high-class "call girls") came to light. He was known in the little black books as "Client Nine." Maybe there's some kind of jinx in the number nine. But Mr. Weiner never, as far as is known, had sex with a prostitute or with anybody other than his new wife. The whole donnybrook is over pictures sent to women (and a 17-year-old girl) over the internet. The pictures are all over the Web now, and we can judge them for ourselves. Just Google "Weiner crotch" and "Weiner shirtless." Somehow, conservative columnist Andrew Breitbart got hold of some of them and made them public. I nominate Andrew Breitbart for tzara'at. He is guilty of gossipmongering for transparent political reasons. Anthony Weiner has been a most effective Congressman, delivering the goods to his district (e.g. "Weiner's Cleaners" powerwashing graffiti off walls) and advocating for a strong foreign policy, and bucking his own Democratic Party in the process. He is also a skilled debater and a forceful advocate for President Obama's health care reforms. I have my reservations there, especially as regards his single-payer proposals. I also want to keep the generous health-care package that the United Federation of Teachers negotiated for me. But these issues deserve to be debated on their merits, not scuttled by dirty gossip from the opposition.

As far as I am aware, the Congressman did not send pictures of himself naked, as so much of the media implied. He sent pictures of himself in his underwear, with a discreet outline of his genitals visible. People of a certain age will remember "Underwear That's Funtawear." The men's briefs featured a strategically placed "Big Mac" or "Home of the Whopper" (I'm sure McDonald's and Burger King raked in handsome profits). The women's panties declared their owners "Slippery When Wet." None of us got particularly uptight; if we didn't like the message we didn't wear the underwear. And today pictures much more risque than the ones Mr. Weiner sent out are all over the web.

Are the Weiner photos any worse than this wrestler, available on a public site?

As far as the shirtless photos go, the man was in a gym for heaven's sake. What is inappropriate about being bare-chested in a gym? Those poor women saw nothing that all of us do not see every day this time of year. Add to that guilt-by-innuendo, when columnists opined that "some of the women might have been under age." The people making the charges have the burden of proof, and none was forthcoming. The age of consent in New York is seventeen. Authorities in the jurisdiction where the 17-year-old in question resided did not have a problem, and neither did the girl's parents, so why do the media have a problem? Conservative pundit Dennis Prager declared that what the Congressman did was worse than an extramarital affair (in which more than one Congressman is known to have indulged), and asked if a teenage boy would rather have his father look at raunchy pictures or have an affair. Well, I'd rather he looked at pictures. Nobody ever contracted a venereal disease from pictures. So Mr. Weiner gave in to a yetzer hara. We all do that on occasion.

What bothers me more than sending the pictures is lying about them once they came to light. If Mr. Weiner was running for the first time, that probably would have caused me to vote against him or sit out the election. But he was our Congressman for a long time, and a very good one. As long as he did not break the law or Congress' code of ethics, the media feeding frenzy was far more unseemly than anything Weiner did. And the feeding frenzy is going to have a chilling effect on the body politic for years to come. If sainthood is now a requirement for public office, who would want to seek public office? Everyone of us is a package. You take us with our good qualities and our faults. And ordinary people will also suffer. I am a biology teacher. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that a 13-year-old student could contact me on the Web with questions about human reproduction. I have no way of verifying her age; neither, probably, did Mr. Weiner. If I keep the conversation on a high level (anatomical names for body parts) but give the student the straight answers she was probably not getting at home or in school, have I done anything wrong? Might I get in trouble for it years down the pike? Such a climate of fear is not healthy for teachers, students or other living things.

We live in a society where sex is used to sell everything from automobiles to zirconia. It is hypocritical, to put it mildly, to jump on a Congressman who sent pictures of himself that were mildly inappropritate (I would not have sent them if I were in his place). So now we lost an effective public official over a tempest in a teapot. Stay tuned.

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