Does Anthony Weiner's Comeback Mean that the Laws of Scandal Politics Have Changed?
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Former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner is back. Having given up his House seat following being exposed in a 2011 sexting scandal, Weiner bowed out of politics for the last two years.
On May 22nd, Weiner threw his proverbial hat into the New York City mayoral race, one of a half-dozen Democratic candidates seeking to replace Michael Bloomberg in the upcoming election. In a well-plotted campaign, he’s back in the game. He harbors a war chest estimated at $5 million and was required to announce his run or forfeit public matching funds.
In a professionally produced video that launched his campaign, he lays out a profile of his life – his childhood in Brooklyn, his Congressional accomplishments and his “middle class” agenda for the city. Most telling in terms of the scandal that will likely dog his campaign, Weiner opens and closes the video accompanied with his wife, Huma Abedin, an aide to Hillary Clinton.
Weiner’s reemergence on the political scene comes just a couple of weeks after another political figure who was forced from office following a sex scandal, Mark Sanford. The former governor of South Carolina won a race for a House seat against Elizabeth Colbert Busch.
These two races — involving a Democrat and a Republican, in a blue and a red state — signal the further erosion of the culture wars. The Christian right remains absolutist with regard to a woman’s right to an abortion. But some within the Republican right have given ground with regard to gay rights, immigration, teen sex ed and the morning-after pill.
An increasing number of states have legalized marriage equality and the Senate is advancing a somewhat “bipartisan” immigration bill. These efforts signal the emergence of a new right-of-center “moderate” faction within the Republican Party.
The new Republican moderates seem to recognize that the 2012 election signed a profound shift in the electoral climate. They seem to acknowledge that the message of Tea Party activists is getting shriller, more fundamentalists. More insightful, they see Republicans as a shrinking political force due to demographics and as capitalist recovery takes place. They wonder how to hold – if not gain – ground in the 2014 Congressional elections. Can it be a replay of what happened in 2010?
Americans love a scandal involving the high-and-mighty, whether a politician, celebrity or grandee. It represents all-Americanschadenfreude, the satisfaction or pleasure that comes from someone else’s misfortune. U.S. history is rich with political scandals, many involving sex. More interesting, time — and changing moral values –has led to the rehabilitation of pols and others brought down by a sex scandal.
This shifting value system is personified by former-President Bill Clinton. His illicit Oval Office tryst with Monica Lewinsky was the grounds for his Impeachment by a Republican-controlled House of Representatives led by Newt Gingrich. Clinton’s value position has been significantly enhanced by the subsequent revelations about Gingrich, who, while leading the charge against the sitting president, was involved in an out-of-wedlock affair with Callista Gingrich, his current wife.
Today, Clinton has been fully rehabilitated. He runs the prestigious Clinton Foundation and his wife, Hillary, who stuck with him through the scandal, served as Secretary of State and has a shot at becoming the next president. One can only wonder whether Weiner, his wife and political confidants reflected on this possibly parallel scenario.
Other pols have not fared so well. Gingrich flubbed the 2012 election. Al Gore, a well-meaning if inept politician – whatever happened to the “Information Superhighway”? – was deflated after his divorce. New York’s former governor, Eliot Spitzer, kept his marriage but has floundered as an entertainment figure, jumping from an online columnist, to talk-show personality, to whatever gives him visibility.