Bill Clinton had an affair, lied about it, and went on to become a two term United States President. New York Attorney General, Eliot Spitzer, once known as client number nine is now known as the host of CNN's In the Arena. Congressman Charlie Rangel was found guilty of ethics violations and continues to serve. Representative Maxine Waters, alleged ethics violator, lingers on the house judiciary committee while patiently awaiting her hearing. Of the aforementioned, not a member of the political party they pledge allegiance to sent out the call for their resignation. Congressman Weiner tweets a picture of his man parts to a porn star and three weeks later he's out of a job.
Why do some politicians walk free while others walk the plank? Is it sex vs. money that determines if you stay or if you go? Or are the politics of politics at play?
I worked for more than a decade as political campaign secretary who saw and managed a fair share of scandal, the most notorious being at the helm with Ralph Reed during his run for Lt. Governor of Georgia which, as bad timing would have it, coincided with the largest lobbying scandal in modern history. With that in mind, I don't believe that accidentally pressing 'send to all' instead of a direct message to one is an abuse of power. And so often when your hand gets caught in the cookie jar or your penis on y-frog, it's usually the cover up, not the crime that lands you in hot water. This is what happened here. Weiner handled the mistake poorly and coupled with how well he played with others (which by all accounts was also poorly), created the firestorm that led to his resignation. Congressman Weiner is known for being bullish, arrogant and in one report, 'abrasive'. One might surmise that he acted as reported because of ego and entitlement. And, trust me, the Capitol Hill environment doesn't help a man with a pattern of acting in his own best interest.
To understand why sexual misconduct on Capitol Hill is more prevalent than it should be, let's first understand how it happens. Political offices are strange cesspools of energy, ego and ambition. It's an atypical working environment with no employee manual, or at least not one anyone pays any attention to. It's an ecosystem where wheeling and dealing is sustenance and publicity is oxygen. As the former Congressman today pointed out in his resignation conference, staffers are young, under-paid and over-worked. Probably the most senior aide in an office, possibly in their thirties, helps decide if you are going to get a tax cut or access to affordable generic drugs. There is no such thing as a 9 - 5 workday and sometimes staffers are working all hours of the day and night. Throw alcohol and hormones into the mix and BAM! You've got yourself an unholy union of flesh and tongues, or, Mr. Weiner's case some spare time, an i-phone and an erection.
But the Weiner scandal, while familiar because it involved a married man and a woman who is not his wife, is inaugural in nature. The behavior, while a bit more bizarre than Representative Chris Lee's sending a picture of his hairless six-pack through Craigslist, was certainly no weirder. Never before had an elected official been taken down by the power of social media. Social networking has gone from being a part of our private lives to taking down a public figure.
In 2004 Illinois United States Senate race a young handsome Jack Ryan won the Republican primary. He would face Democrat opponent Barack Obama. Everything was looking good for this good looking and charismatic candidate. Some statewide polls had his within striking distance of his opponent. That is until his sealed child custody files, which had been requested sealed by both he and his ex-wife, actress Jeri Ryan, was unsealed by pressure from media outlets and ultimately a court order. The unsealed records proved to be embarrassing. According to records he was into sex clubs and his now ex-wife wasn't. Embarrassing? Yes. Fatal? Shouldn't be.
That is, until he started losing support from members of his party. At the time, Illinois has just seen the indictment of a governor. They, and the state, suffered from scandal fatigue. Ryan dropped out of the race one week later. It's hard to know if Ryan was as unlikeable as Weiner but we do know that in both cases no one was willing to risk their political capital to save their colleagues political backside.
Could Weiner have stayed in office? Yes, as in the case of those politicians who behaved poorly before him, they were able to cling to colleagues. That's why, as Weiner's support continued to wane, his career, as of June 16, 2011 around 2:30 pm went limp. The public and is over the tried and tired press strategies of the past (the lies, the cover up, the press conference, the tears and even the supportive wife) and his colleagues were over him.
Lisa Baron is the author of Life of the Party: A Political Press Tart Bares All (Citadel June 28, 2011).