Weiner, Spitzer, Strauss-Kahn: How Could They Have Done It?
The next mayor of New York City stands in the shoes of the next president of France. Both highly successful political careers have been derailed by the same nemesis: inappropriate behavior toward women because of the need for immediate gratification of the man's sexual desires. Of course, what the self-destructive trio did, in different ways, was indicative of mental disorder. Other leaders of countries and cities have been mentally ill. They continue until their disorder becomes public, usually as a result of an act so at variance with conventional ethical standards that it would not be tolerated by the electorate.
What is it that makes people who have everything to lose – and nothing to gain but transitory relief – engage time and again in conduct which results in their losing everything? We don't know; we are not psychiatrists. But self-destructive behavior is not new. Its most direct example is suicide. People do that when the pain of living is worse for them than the fear of dying.
Former Queens Borough President Donald Manes, facing imprisonment in 1986, chose that cowardly route. In the cases of Governor Eliot Spitzer and Congressman Anthony Weiner, the suicide is professional. They remain alive, and are free to build new careers. They both, at this point, have loving wives. Neither man will reach the heights he could have attained, but they will not starve. Why, oh why, do these gifted and talented people engage in such obviously ruinous behavior? How could the sitting governor believe that no one would recognize him on his repeated liaisons? How many people did the Congressman proposition on Twitter without realizing that any one of them could turn him in?
It only takes a single complaint to topple the house of cards. Then others will rush in, confirming the sordid tale. Cf. Tiger Woods. I have high regard for Anthony Weiner's better side, which I believe exists somewhere under all the lies, self-deception and cruelty to others. He has suffered from his family's instability, his brother's tragic death, his comic last name, and rejection by his peers before he became too important to ignore. The Sammy Glick comparison may be the most obvious literary reference, but I like to believe there was more to Anthony than that. I hope he makes the best of his new life.
There are four dangers lying ahead. First is censure or expulsion from the House of Representatives, which is controlled by Republicans. What better way for the hypocrites to demonstrate their purity than by removing the offender?
The second is the Democratic primary in 2012, where he would undoubtedly be challenged.
The third is the general election, in which, although it has not be noted, he received only 59 % of the vote in 2010 against a little-known Republican opponent.
The fourth hurdle is redistricting. When the lines are drawn for 2012, his seat will be the first to be butchered. His downfall is a personal tragedy. It is also a loss for the city and state. There are few enough smart politicians to let one go down without an expression of sympathy, and regret over what might have been if he were well.
There are government and private agencies created to help the physically challenged. It is unfortunate that, in the field of mental health, people are less forgiving and help is more difficult to secure, particularly when it involves disclosure of behavior which must be secret because of valid social norms.
The immortal words of Terry Malloy come to mind in another Schulberg reference: "I coulda been a contender." Anthony Weiner was a contender, but he could have been a champion.