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Weinergate: Some Parting Thoughts

June 20, 2011

By Kay S. Hymowitz

Anthony Weiner earned many choice epithets for himself during his media trial by fire: creepy, sleazy, foolish, sordid, stupid. But there is one that made me pause: “immature.” That’s not because it doesn’t fit the ex-Congressman. On the contrary. It suits him perfectly. It also helps explain why unlike some other bad boy politicians he was forced to resign.

Why does the “immature” shoe fit Weiner? It’s certainly not the mere fact that he was cheating on his wife. A thoroughly scientific study of the subject (i.e. several Google searches) proves that “immature” was not a term used to portray Spitzer, Schwarzenegger, Sanford, etc., etc,. etc. Yes, in small measure, the term might suit him because teenagers or twentysomethings are usually the ones using new media for macking.

But the real reason Weiner earned his label is, ironically, because he did not have sex with those women. A lot of people have argued this should be a mitigating factor in our judgement of the Congressman, and in some respects it is. If we were to rank cheaters, with 1 for Jimmy Carter lusting in his heart to 10 for DSK for attempted rape, Weiner only ranks around 3 or 4. After all, he wasn’t arranging to meet anyone in a seedy motel room or behind the bushes in Rock Creek Park. the only physical contact he seemed to have had was with his camera and Weiner jr.

And that’s the point. His behavior seemed propelled less by lust for women’s bodies than by lust for their “Ooo - Congressman! -What big-muscles-you-have” admiration. The former we can understand, and under certain conditions even forgive. The latter seems “creepy,” and yes, immature. Think about how middle school kids stare in the mirror trying on looks and poses that they think make them cool or “hot.” They are at a stage where they need to perform a self because they don’t have a sense of who they are apart from what the other kids think about them.

That’s precisely what we sense about Weiner. The photos - it’s fitting that some of them show him admiring himself in a mirror – of his waxed and buff chest and bulging underpants suggest a man desperate to be noticed and admired, and not for his contributions to the public good. In fact, in retrospect even Weiner’s flared-nostril performances on the House floor (here’s the most well known) look like they were driven by “look-how-passionate-I-am” posing as much as political conviction.

Weiner had some of the marks of what I call the childman. He dated flashy women, one after another, whom he doubtless thought seemed other people. He didn’t marry until he was well into his forties. In theory there’s nothin’ wrong with that. In reality, the single guy who is in his forties is usually single because He’s Got Issues. For childmen, women are often strange, foreign objects that they want to use for sex or their own self-esteem or both. They may not be looking to settle down for the long haul with a , but then again they’re not really capable of making a deep connection with women anyway.

In a strange way, then, the relative modesty of Weiner’s misbehavior fueled public derision and guaranteed his downfall. Americans are much more tolerant of all sorts of sexual behavior that would have meant ruin in the past. Think of Clinton, now an elder statesman and Spitzer, a respected pundit. But Weiner’s behavior reeked of the sort of narcissism that characterize children and adolescents whose fragile selves are still in flux. We know it’s possible for a horny man to be an effective representative of the public welfare. But a compulsively horny, deeply immature man?

At any rate, like a teenager, Weiner took lots of pictures of himself. And each picture, as the old saw has it, speaks a thousand words.

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