It’s always unsettling to see a promising political career come crashing down because of a personal failing, a spectacle that has become all too familiar in recent years. We have covered Anthony Weiner’s public service from the time he rose from Chuck Schumer’s aide to city councilman to Congressional representative and strong defender of Israel, to his two surreal press conferences this month. A boon to tabloid sales, Twitter and to late night talk-show ratings, Weiner’s downfall is nevertheless a sad tale that fueled a month-long party of sophomoric public guffawing.
We worry about a culture in which non-criminal private failings usurp significant public accomplishments and in which the will of the people – 56 percent of Weiner’s constituents polled wanted him to stay– is trumped by editorial writers and party leaders with ulterior agendas.
Make no mistake. We don’t mean to minimize in any way the congressman’s behavior, which lowered both his dignity and that of his office. In addition to his ultra-macho behavior online, instructing his staff to lie on his behalf, while lying personally to the media in an air of false indignation, was an egregious betrayal of the public trust.
But if conduct unbecoming an elected official was an impeachable offense, we’d see a regular cycle of special elections around the country and fewer names at roll call. There was a fair amount of hypocrisy in the assertions by the Democrat leadership that Weiner should step down because he was a distraction, an assessment not made when Rep. Charles Rangel, the deposed head of the Ways and Means Committee, was convicted of numerous ethical violations, including non-payment of taxes. In the assessment of many political observers, the demise of Weiner’s congressional career was seen as both suicide and homicide, done in not only by his own immature conduct but by peers who ran for cover. No doubt his aggressive and often self-aggrandizing behavior didn’t help, adding to Weiner’s alienation from his colleagues.
Looking ahead, the Democrats mentioned as possible successors in the short term are accomplished public officials or former officials with a track record of support for Israel and Jewish causes, while the Republican in the mix is something of a blank slate.
As to whether the district is ripe for elimination at a time when the state must shed two House seats, we hope the Legislature and governor won’t make expedient decisions that could adversely impact Jewish voters and others for the next decade. We know Jewish community watchdogs will be looking at proposed map changes to argue that a unified, powerful presence shouldn’t be split into bits and pieces in multiple adjoining districts.
Finally, we hope Anthony Weiner can make good on his pledge to heal himself and his family, and successfully deal with his self-destructive behavior. Perhaps he can return to public service in the future. While our society can be cruel in the midst of a scandal, it is not unforgiving. Just ask Bill Clinton, one of the most popular figures in America today.
Teshuva, or repentance, is key to Jewish religious tradition. As the sages wrote, “those who want to be forgiven must learn to forgive.”
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