WASHINGTON -- Would that Anthony Weiner were old news.
But no. He won’t quit. Only a man who distributed online photos of His Own Self could imagine denial as virtue.
Weiner’s stubbornness is likely based on two probabilities: first is that he can outlast the electorate’s attention span, which gnats regard with envy. A second pertains to Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s observation that our nation was defining deviancy down -- normalizing the deviant to accommodate our moral decay.
If you can’t fix it, in other words, make it “normal.” Divorce, pornography, unwed parenthood, “sexting,” whatever. If everyone’s doing it, then it can’t be wrong. Right?
Moynihan, the great New York senator, was prescient by any standard and politically incorrect by today’s. He spoke truth in ways that would earn him exile from our current silly state. If only we could figure out how to swap him with this other New Yorker, whose fixation on his Johnny Rocket puts one in mind not of a statesman but of a baby on the changing table.
Indeed, Weiner’s concerns are so little removed from a kindergartner’s (allowing a slight chronological progression out of respect for the recently born), that his persistent campaign is incomprehensible. Equally so is the complicity of his steadfast, obviously ambitious (if well-liked, as all Washington is required to concede) wife.
There is a third operative probability -- that The People, who once forgave Weiner in the spirit of second chances, would forgive him again. But this time, it isn’t only that Weiner was tweeting shots of his barely concealed appendage. It is that, posing online as “Carlos Danger” (not “Peligroso”?), he continued to send similar tweets to much-younger female strangers, inviting them to comment on his assets while playing up his political power.
“I’m huge,” he said, while doubtless winking at himself in a mirror.
Specifically, Weiner sought the approval of one “Sydney Leathers,” 23, who now is featured in a two-piece swimsuit spread on the New York Post’s website -- cavorting, splashing and telegraphing non-verbal come-hithers of a sort that must have kept Weiner riveted to his palm pilot.
What a perfect pair.
The exhibitionist compulsion, now a viral plague thanks to the mixed blessing of social media, was once considered not de rigueur but repugnant. In Moynihan’s time, the well-bred kept their private concerns (including politics and religion) private, not only because it was no one’s business but because it was otherwise boorish.
Showing one’s schnitzel to a random collection of “friends” and “followers” was, needless to say, inconceivable to any but the occasional pervert, who was recognized as such. What is Anthony Weiner but a flasher who, in a saner world, would be arrested for indecent exposure? But for the missing rumpled raincoat, what’s the difference between a man tweeting his shenanigan to strangers online and exposing himself to a stranger on the street?
Not much except for our acceptance of deviant behavior. Community standards are impossible to impose on a global horde and so there are no standards. The liberated id -- uninhibited, impulsive and self-gratifying -- thrives without restraint, tyrannizing the culture under the banner of freedom. As a result, we have erased the line between adult behavior (as in grown-up, not X-rated) and childish expression.
Technology, ironically, seems to have produced an inverse effect on behavior. The more advanced our ability to express ourselves, the more primitive our expressions. Pornography is the perfect vehicle for the animal tendency toward exhibitionism so perfectly mastered by our baboon brethren. To make the obscene more palatable, we have cutesified the language, inventing new words that make the serious seem silly and inconsequential. Weiner was only “sexting,” sending out explicit “selfies” to the virtual world.
Besides, say Weiner’s few remaining defenders, he’s still smart! Really? How smart can a man be who tweets his parts to countless “followers,” tries to blame a hacker, then continues to pursue online fantasies with strangers well after he allegedly stopped -- and still thinks he should be mayor of New York City?
Who follows such a man?
Apparently, Rome does, at least in the news sense. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, recently said he won’t judge Weiner and cited both the compassion of Pope Francis and God’s redemptive preference.
But for those whose immediate concerns are more secular than divine, the voting booth provides a parallel confessional. To forgive may be divine, but to reward obscene behavior is deviancy of a lower order.