Spare us all the Anthony Weiners, on both sides of the aisle.

Sleazy. Sordid. Tacky. Now, sick. In the wake of the revelation that Congressman Anthony Weiner had sexted a 17-year-old from Delaware, he announced he would take a leave of absence “to focus on becoming a better husband and healthier person.” How do you treat undisciplined libido, narcissism, and insane risk-taking behavior?
This latest Weiner move represents what George Will calls “the medicalization of the crisis,” as in “I didn’t do it. My disease made me do it.”

There’s a long history of risky sexual behavior on both sides of the aisle, possibly related to the aphrodisiac of power and sense of entitlement that too many politicians develop. What we have seen in the Weiner scandal is disturbingly familiar: revelation (usually by media), denial, confession (usually with tears), apology and ultimately, for some, censure or resignation.

At least this time we were spared “the good wife” routine, in which the wronged missus stands by her man to help him uphold his reputation. Wife Huma Abedin, a key aide to Hillary Clinton, has been in Abu Dhabi travelling with the Secretary of State, and all eyes will be on her upon her return. But from a public perspective, whether she stands by him or gives him the boot doesn’t matter. The damage has been done.

Many scandal-mired politicians have come back, to be re-elected, to run for President, or to get lucrative television contracts. For renewal and redemption stories, we in Massachusetts need look no further than former Congressman Gerry Studds, Congressman Barney Frank, and certainly Senator Ted Kennedy. But part of their brands will always be defined by their transgressions – and how they responded when they were exposed. For today, at a time of unprecedented peril (two+ wars, the worse economic recession since the Great Depression, and jaw-dropping ideological polarization),  this story is about more than Anthony Weiner, how he has compromised his effectiveness in the public debate or what he has done to his family.

Media frenzy about the Weiner scandal has stopped the Democrats in their tracks and changed the conversation from Medicare, the debt ceiling, the federal budget and jobs to the Congressman’s peccadilloes. The story has hijacked the public agenda and confirmed our sense that we are, as former Republican speech writer Peggy Noonan put it, “in an era of public decadence.”

MA fifth district Congresswoman Niki Tsongas is distinguished among the MA delegation in calling for Weiner to resign. Others have said they don’t want to get ahead of a House Ethics Committee investigation. Maybe so. But Tsongas seems to understand that Weiner’s excess of testosterone has created terrible fallout for public discourse at a time of enormous challenges. And, if Weiner isn’t concerned enough about these critical  issues to resign, then one hopes the census-driven redrawing of New York’s congressional districts will do the job for him.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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