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The Pathos of Anthony Weiner

I’m late to the Weinerfest, but perhaps for the reason that I’ve been distracted by Egypt, Germany, and Serbia in recent months, there’s an element to the story that I think deserves a bit more attention. Anthony Weiner is a Congressman. A member (sorry) of Congress. One of 435 of the people’s representatives, 535 if you count the more powerful ones, and what has he been doing with himself? How does he spend his most precious and scarce resource, his time? Well, by now you know.

Yes, there’s a point to private life. Yes, even a Member of Congress is entitled to one. But even a citizen is entitled to come to a judgment about such a person. And people, the world’s in an uproar. The unemployed need attention—not just a vote, not just a speech. There’s a mad party in control of Congress. Glaciers are melting and they think that’s, well, cool. There are nations near bankruptcy and nuclear weapons. There are three wars and counting. The plutocracy rides high. Rep. Weiner is, in his person, more than one-fifth of one percent of the American Congress. He’s on the charts. He gets a hearing. He’s reputed to have a brain. And what does he offer his country? Pictures of himself.

Americans are reputed to worship the work ethic, but I’m struck by the number of homes that feature lounge chairs on their front porches. We may not take it so easy, but we think we ought to advertise that we can do precisely that whenever we like. We’re a people of conspicuous leisure. Anthony Weiner, house gym, towel, and all, seems to have thought he could win friends (make that “friends’) by advertising that he had all the time in the world. Talk about Vanity Fair.

There’s an amazing unseriousness about this country. You don’t have to be a Puritan to believe that, in a critical time, lives, fortunes, and sacred honor are called for. Initiative is called for. One’s best is called for. That’s why we elect representatives—to represent the better angels of our nature. No one is required to wear a hair shirt, but preening to strangers, legal or not, properly marital or not, is not what these guys are elected to spend their time doing. Self-display, clothed or unclothed, is not the liberty of which the founders wrote. A political class that includes Anthony Weiner and Newt Gingrich is beyond disgracing. It’s committed collective suicide.

“Because public service is exactly that,” President Obama said today, “it’s a service to the public. And when you get to the point where, because of various personal distractions, you can’t serve as effectively as you need to at the time when people are worrying about jobs and their mortgages and paying the bills, then you should probably step back.” Good for him.

“A republic, madam, if you can keep it,” Benjamin Franklin said to a curious citizen who asked what the Constitutional convention had delivered. It’s rather late in the game to suggest that the keepers have ducked behind the bars of the zoo.

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