Much to the shock of no one in particular, Representative Anthony Weiner got up on tv today and admitted to sending pictures of his goodies to some woman on Twitter. The reason this is not shocking is because the goody shot has been circulating for a week and Weiner has been obfuscating for almost as long, neither confirming nor denying anything. If it wasn’t his goodies, he would have said “No, dude, I don’t eve own grey boxer-briefs” and the story would have been over. Instead he lawyered up and used words like “certitude” when asked if the picture was of his crotch. After a week of trying to pretend like his Twitter account had been hacked, he stood up and admitted to being a horndog with a webcam and an internet connection, two items that are as common as they are combustible.
However, they are not illegal. They are not against the ethics rules of the House of Representatives (though I heard Leader Pelosi is calling for an investigation, just in case) and they are not my problem. I’m sure this situation is of great disappointment to his mother, his wife, and maybe Hillary and Bill Clinton. Secretary Clinton is Weiner’s wife’s boss and the former President officiated at their wedding. Surely one of them could have leaned in to Anthony at some point and said “Don’t be a schmuck! And if you are a schmuck, don’t get caught!”. Having a friend and colleague fail utterly at keeping his privates private, even with their example before him to study, must be a bit upsetting.
But the point is I don’t care too much about Weiner and his internet escapades, despite the bizarre amount of attention I’ve paid to the situation. I’m a little disgusted with him because I kind of like the guy. He’s a reliable lefty politician who’s not afraid to wisecrack and get snarky about some important issues. He’s funny and smart and in some ways represents the victory of the pencil-necked geek over the prom king. Weiner looks like every skinny kid in the literary magazine office where I hung out in high school, the guys who were on Model UN and taking AP American history. I like the idea that the brainiacs triumphed and now run the nation using a combination of smarts and sarcasm to get the job done. Finding out that success paved the way to making one of those guys into a standard-issue douchebag is disappointing.
It’s important to remember, though, that Anthony Weiner (and Christopher Lee and David Vitter and Newt Gingrich and John Ensign and the other elected adulterers who surface every few years) is not representative of the whole of Congress and their personal morals. He’s one guy. One of 535 in seats of legislative power. Most of them don’t suck. They really don’t.
It’s so easy to paint Congress with one brush and assume they’re all corrupt in one way or another. Everything they do is public so everything they do is subject to analysis. They look like liars, they look like panderers, they look like whores to special interests. And sometimes, one of them flames out in spectacular fashion and we get to see every single minute of it.
But that’s not most of them. Most of them are people working hard to do a job that has a lot of drawbacks. They’re away from their families a lot. They work weird hours and travel days out of every week. They have to spend their off hours raising enough money to campaign and then raising enough money to help other people campaign as well and to do that they have to take money from everyone who gives it. They have to know a lot about their coworkers, a lot about their parties, a lot about the country, and a lot about their home state and district. They need to follow an arcane set of procedural rules to even be allowed to speak, much less to be allowed to move an idea forward into law. They need to listen to everyone who comes knocking at their doors and usually those people are angry with them. They never have a day where they’ve made everyone happy. They are never entirely successful. They always give something up to get something else done. They are always bracing for a fight, always waiting to duck away from the next blow.
And many of them are doing it because they believe their work will matter and it will help people they will never meet, people who will never thank them.
For every Member of Congress whose ego starts to believe the hype about money and power and influence, who listens too closely to the sycophants, to the power seekers who flatter to gain position, for every Member who takes all of that as license to behave like a schmuck, there are five Members who you have never heard of because they’re just working stiffs with the word Congressman in front of their names. They are doing a job and trying to to do it well, to do it the way they said they would do it. You might hate the way they vote or the bills they bring to consideration but that doesn’t mean they’re doing their job badly. You might dislike the campaign finance system that makes them beholden to special interest groups with checkbooks, but that doesn’t make them crooks. You might cluck our tongue over the minority of them who have affairs or play fast and loose with the truth but that’s not all of them. It’s only the ones on tv.
Don’t let Anthony Weiner stand in for all of Congress in your esteem. He’s just one schmuck with a Twitter account, a camera and a crotch. He’s not the beginning and end of the Legislative Branch of our government. Most of the rest of them aren’t Weiners.