Why should Weiner quit?

Dorian Davis Adjunct Journalism Professor, Marymount Manhattan College
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Now that Anthony Weiner has admitted to sending semi-nude pictures of himself to women online, the blogosphere is buzzing with prognostications that the New York congressman’s political career is over. Former DNC chairman Tim Kaine told a local Virginia TV station that Weiner should resign. WNYC’s Karol Markowicz writes that Weiner has to go. And The Huffington Post quotes two fellow lawmakers and a New York Democratic operative who think that Weiner might be finished. Well, those people are wrong — not about his career being over but about his having one to start with.

Since it broke two weeks ago, the media have depicted Weinergate as another major political figure’s fall from grace, but this is no Clinton-esque tragedy. As Steve Kornacki at Capital New York notes, Weiner has “far less to show” for his six terms in the House than his old mentor Chuck Schumer had for his tenure. (He’s better known for his animated outburst on the House floor last summer in response to Congress’s failure to pass the 9/11 first-responders bill than he is for actual legislation.) While the press is reporting the latest polls from Survey USA and Marist, in which 43 percent and 56 percent of New Yorkers, respectively, oppose his running for mayor, as proof that his once-bright future in state politics is over, Weiner’s NYC political ambitions were delusional to begin with. Weiner lost the Democratic mayoral primary in 2005 by 12 points to Fernando Ferrer — who in turn lost the general election to Republican Mike Bloomberg in a Democratic stronghold. And though some outlets contend that Weiner might have been a major contender in 2013, it’s a pretty safe bet that nobody named Weiner was ever going to win the Bronx.

So it’s strange that the media have made so much of this story. Forget that Weiner’s such a small-time figure. Having pictures like the ones that he passed around is standard to this generation. This is normal behavior for millions of people who are plugged into the Internet and use it for networking and dating. On CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” CUNY journalism’s Jeff Jarvis called the Weiner scandal another instance of “American Puritanism,” and he’s right about that. It’s a crotch shot, not a dead body. I’d be more worried about the fact that Weiner can’t figure out how to send a picture privately on Twitter than the fact that he sent it. Granted, it sucks for his wife. Chris Matthews even suggested on Monday’s Hardball that Weiner’s wife might be at least partly to blame for his conduct if she knew about it beforehand. But if she made it through sleeping with Weiner in the first place, this stuff is comparatively easy.

Democrats have been over-reacting too. The worst that came out of Weinergate is that New York hospitals saw a brief increase in the number of people being treated for nausea. But Washington is treating him like Michael Richards. First Weiner’s women sold him down the river — one even talked to ABC — then his colleagues in the House did. After seeing Weiner’s shirtless pictures, two of his fellow House representatives opted to give donations from Weiner to charity. And since Radar Online reported that Weiner might have used a congressional phone line to call one of his sexting partners and exchanged sext messages with her from Congress — including one on March 21, 2010, the day the House passed the healthcare bill — even the House leadership is piling on. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called on Monday for an ethics probe into Weiner’s conduct to find out if “official resources were used.” Would it be so bad if Weiner spent a quarter on a personal phone call while Democrats spent a trillion on healthcare? And House Majority Leader Eric Cantor told the press on Tuesday that Weiner should resign altogether.

From the minute Weinergate started, Andrew Brieitbart has been out there egging on coverage like it were Clinton 2.0. On Monday, he told CBS’s “Early Show” that “the cover-up is worse than the crime.” But there’s no real crime here. And even if there were, is it worth reporting? The whole episode is instructive because, as Gene Healey says at The Washington Examiner, it reminds us not to “cede more power to these clowns” in Congress. But when the primary beneficiary of Weiner’s dashed hopes is Alec Baldwin — he’s now reportedly considering a mayoral run — we’re not dealing with the next Bill Clinton. Weiner should have come clean. His excuses were preposterous. But New Yorkers have sent him to Congress six times since 1998 knowing perfectly well that he spends more time lecturing than legislating. And 51 percent of New Yorkers in a NY1 poll want him to keep his seat. Why should he quit?

Dorian Davis is a former MTV HITS star turned Libertarian writer. He’s been published in Business Week, NY Daily News, XY & more. He’s an NYU graduate and National Journalism Center alum. He teaches journalism at Marymount Manhattan College.