I have to admit that I’ve had some schadenfreude over the scandal enveloping Anthony Weiner, although I am starting to feel a bit sorry for the fellow. The man climbed the ladder of power by attacking his enemies and stiff-arming his rivals, and he seems to have united them all in their disdain for him.
I’m not in a position to give him advice as to whether he should resign; I’ve got no idea what new facts might come out, or how much he’s antagonized the state legislature that could redistrict him out of office, or whether Schumer and the other power brokers will spend any of their precious political capital to defend him. Or, most importantly, how angry his wife is. But if he does decide to step down, I would like to suggest a role model for him to follow: John Profumo.
For those of you too young to remember (and that would be most of you, since the scandal happened 50 years ago this month), Profumo was Her Majesty’s secretary of state for war for England and his crime was having a fling with a comely KGB agent and then denying it on the floor of Parliament. Evidence soon emerged that confirmed the affair and he quickly resigned.
A few days after the affair, he showed up at the door of Toynbee Hall, a charitable mission in London’s east end, and asked if they might need any help. They assigned him to wash dishes and help with a children’s play group, which he did quite ably — for the next 40 years. He never again did anything in politics, commented in the press, or tearfully apologized on a TV show. He set himself on a course of redemption and charity and, one could fairly say, he succeeded at that task, at least in the eyes of those who mattered — his family, friends, and God. As well as anyone else who was paying attention.
As Mark Steyn pointed out in his remarkable obituary of Profumo that appeared in The Atlantic in 2006, before the magazine jettisoned most clever writing, by living his life in this way he reclaimed his own narrative. By the end of his life there was no one who still rejoiced at his downfall or felt sorry for him in the slightest — the way he conducted his post-scandal life showed what kind of person he was, and it turns out he was a decent, honorable one. And a better man than most of us.
I suspect that Rep. Weiner is trying to calculate if he can survive in office, whether he could resurrect a political career if he were to resign, and how he might redeem himself. John Profumo’s life offers a different path to redemption — and maybe a more legitimate one as well.
Ike Brannon is Director of Economic Policy at the American Action Forum.