Friday, June 10, 2011

A Liberal Lost

Someone asked me today what I thought of the Anthony Weiner story that has played out in all its tawdry glory for the last week. I told them I was filled with a sense of disappointment. It’s the same feeling I had when Elliot Spitzer’s fling with a hooker took him down, or when Bill Clinton’s presidency imploded over the Monica Lewinsky affair.

The root of my disappointment was that I admired these guys as much for their ideas as their tenacity. Weiner was the latest in a string of liberal* politicians who stood for positive change and against the drumbeat of backwards-thought that has kept American politics in a quagmire for years. I was not alone in viewing Weiner that way; he had plenty of supporters, and would likely have become the next Mayor of New York if he hadn’t allowed his sexual obsessions to overwhelm his sense of Things You Shouldn’t Do.

*I prefer that to “progressive,” a word adopted after the perfectly-good “liberal” was abandoned in the face of years of denigration by right-wing extremists.

Liberals aren’t the only ones to get caught in sex scandals. The GOP has had its share, from David Vitter to John Ensign to Mark Sanford. I wonder if those on the right feel the same disappointment when their conservative icons become entangled in similar scandals.

The difference is the hypocrisy of “family-values” conservatives letting their “genital values” run wild. They’re the ones constantly screaming for “less government,” except when they feel it’s their job to play Morality Police, scolding you and passing laws regarding how you live your private life, while they live an alternate reality life that is even more secret.

Regardless of party, the smugly righteous loyalists will always place blame on the media for trying to destroy the man they support, as if covering the dalliances of the powerful was based on political agenda. News outlets don’t care which side of the aisle the pol is from, as long as there’s video or audio or text that can be replayed over and over and over again. And new details will always come to the fore, extending the news window and increasing the embarrassment that could have been avoided by: 1) telling the truth, and 2) not being a putz in the first place.

Critics accused Weiner of behavior unbecoming a Congressman, a standard that was already pretty low. What he did was worse than that – it was behavior unbecoming an adult human. But, as with all the others, what made it more reprehensible was his attempt to cover it up with a series of denials so lame a child could see through them. In this digital age, why does anyone ever think that will work, that the truth won’t eventually come out?

Back to my disappointment. Perhaps that’s the wrong word, because I can’t name many politicians I truly respect. Senator Bernie Sanders might be the exception. But when a liberal who’s an effective speaker, who is both compassionate and passionate about the issues, who is willing to take to the floor of Congress and challenge the ignorance of the other side, when he (or she) falls off the political pedestal, I grieve a little bit for what could have been.