Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Fallout from 'Weinergate': Is the bar too high?

"If men could only know each other, they would neither idolize nor hate." -- Elbert Hubbard
Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and Grover Cleveland. What do these men have in common? They all were American presidents ... and adulterers. Ironically, they all survived their indiscretions. Kennedy and Roosevelt were fortunate to have media that didn't deem extramarital affairs to be newsworthy. Clinton easily withstood an impeachment trial in the Senate and Cleveland weathered the scandal of his illegitimate child by admitting his mistake and asking forgiveness.

Other great Americans who had moral failings: Benjamin Franklin loved French women. Thomas Jefferson was willing to sleep with his slave, but not free her during his lifetime. Martin Luther King had an eye for the ladies as well.

What might be even more frightening to Americans is the number of presidents who have suffered from a mental disorder of some type.

According to a 2006 Duke University study of the first 37 presidents, nearly half of them suffered from a mental disease (some while serving in the White House). Clinical depression, alcoholism, bipolar disorder, social phobia, and anxiety affected these men. In many of these instances, their performance on the job was adversely affected.1

However, the Duke study also noted an interesting fact: the number of presidents suffering from mental disorders mirrored that of the population as a whole.2

For Rep. Anthony Weiner (D- NY), I'm not certain his political fate will be as fortuitous. By now, most Americans are aware that Weiner has admitted to sending various pictures of himself to a woman in Seattle. His actions were inappropriate, as Weiner is a married man.

If the situation plays out in a manner consistent with other recent scandals, Weiner will be pressured to resign his seat in the House of Representatives. Maybe he should be forced to resign ... that isn't the issue I want to examine. Why is Weiner's case different from previous scandals? Why will he not survive when others did (and thrived in some situations)? Also, I believe a discussion is necessary to determine what constitutes an action that warrants a politician losing his or her position of power?

1. Weiner isn't high profile enough to survive. Despite a reputation as one of the more intelligent members of Congress, Weiner is not a president. He has no great policy achievements nor is he even a political leader within the House or his party.  All of the figures mentioned at the start of this post were internationally known.

2. Heightened partisanship. The strain between Democrats and Republicans is currently at a level beyond any the nation has seen in nearly a half century. The Republican Party will not relent on pressuring Weiner, not only because of the opportunity to unseat a Democrat, but also because they were raked over the coals when former Rep. Christopher Lee (R-NY) was forced out of the House because of a scandal similar to Weiner's.

3. The Election of 2012 is too close. Democrats can't afford to have this situation hanging over their head when voters head to the polls. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has already called for an ethics investigation. So much for circling the wagons ...

4. He lied.  Dishonesty about the situation from the start and waiting a week to tell the truth didn't do much to gain him any sympathy.

5. Americans have very high standards for politicians. As children, we are given the mindset that our great historical leaders were flawless. Washington and Lincoln never lied. I'm sure Ulysses Grant and Andrew Jackson were never afraid of anyone either. 

Or leaders were like gods among mere mortals. Even our architecture establishes this mentality. Look no further than the interior of the Capitol Dome to see the Apotheosis of Washington -- the painting showing 'ole George becoming a god.

But, the truth is that our leaders were human beings. We try to overlook that Washington owned slaves. No one wants to know that Grant couldn't stand the sight of blood. Or that Lyndon Johnson was perhaps a pathological liar.

The qualifications for members of Congress offer only age, residency and citizenship requirements to serve. The Supreme Court has no official qualifications. Though the Constitution provides a means for removing officials, it offers no rationale as to why they might be removed. Only the presidency has any reasons for removal from office, which are "... treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors." 3

So, with no qualifications towards what is or isn't acceptable behavior, the discussion moves now to the question, 'Is the bar too high?'  To that question, I'm undecided.  American needs a high caliber man or woman helping to make decisions about the direction of this nation.  We need a high standard.

Yet, the moral failings of human beings strips us of the very leadership we seem to lack.  Good men and women are often hesistant to run for office, for fear that a past mistake might be revealed.  Who would want to put their family through the kind of scrunity that comes with a national scandal?

From the standpoint of 'right or wrong', Weiner was wrong to 'tweet' pictures to women.  But I also have to think about how many of us would want our mistakes paraded in front of the nation.  And should these mistakes define who we are? Was Weiner's mistake worse than Rep. Charles Rangel's (D-NY) financial shenanigans?  Or late Robert Byrd's membership in the Ku Klux Klan?   Things for us to think about ...


1Carey, Benedict. "West Wing Blues: It's Lonely at the Top," The New York Times, February 16, 2006.


3The United States Constitution, Article II, Section 4.

1 comment:

  1. Don,

    When I look at the behavior of some of our elected officials I'm not sure the bar is set high enough. I believe wiener should resign not because of the tweets but because his behavior after he was caught. The lying and trying to cover up are bad enough but he took it a step further and tried to play the victim and almost attack those who were trying to get at the truth. He is a democrat representing queens I believe he would have survived the scandal. I'm not sure he can nor should he survive his behavior afterwords. Integrity should still count for something.