16 August 2013

In defense of Anthony Weiner

Let's lighten up to end the week by taking note of one of the month's odder political commentaries. With former Rep. and current NYC mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner's political stock plummeting again, and the man himself reinstated as a national laughingstock, Joann Wypijewski, The Nation's "Carnal Knowledge" columnist, comes to his defense. Wypijewski is at least consistent, having treated Weiner as a kind of martyr to intolerance when he resigned from Congress two years ago. Her position seems to be that sexual conduct is basically irrelevant to any politician's qualifications for office. Back in 2011, while noting a certain recklessness in Weiner's "sexting" habit, she saw his fall mainly as a victory for the right wing, and the scandal itself as proof of continuing cultural immaturity about sex. Rallying once more to the flagging Weiner, Wypijewski is more provocative and potentially more offensive. She defends Weiner (as a sexual being if not as a politician) by attacking one of his rivals for the Democratic mayoral nomination. In her opinion, because City Council speaker Christine Quinn is an open, married lesbian, Quinn has no right to criticize Weiner's sexual conduct. Because lesbianism was once stigmatized (and still is in some quarters), the argument goes, Quinn is hypocritical for making an issue out of anyone else's sexuality. "If Weiner is now too disgusting for public office," Wypijewski writes, "then Quinn, too, disqualifies for betraying" what the columnist calls "the road to greater sexual honesty."

Wypijewski is guided by a belief that "scandal [is] a problem of social power -- who sets the terms and costs of abnormality." Stigmatizing sexual conduct, for her, is intimately related with social oppression.

[S]ex scandal depends on oppression. Those are cogs in the same machine. Periodically the machine is recalibrated, enlarging or constricting the boundaries of who can say, 'You and you and you are sick,' but it needs sickos, always, to take the measure of normal and ensure that its punishing power is in working shape.

The shaming of Weiner is presented by Wypijewski as morally equivalent, implicitly, to the lobotomizing of homosexuals fifty years ago. Since doing that is no longer an option, our "poor, sick society" has to "compulsively .. erect new gates posted: WARNING: WEIRDOS, and cry scandal whenever someone in the pen gets reckless." To some readers her commentary may seem obtuse not because of her refusal to consider whether Weiner's antics do tell against his character as a potential public servant, but because those readers were not aware that society had, in fact, moved on from the persecution of homosexuals. Lobotomies may be of the past, but to argue that the culture-war front has moved to a point where the Quinns have a duty to defend the Weiners is still, to say the least, a peculiar perspective on the battlefield. Since Wypijewski's job apparently is to take a peculiar view of things, I suppose we can't knock her too much. But if her job is also to stand up for oppressed sexuality, is there really no one more deserving of defense than Anthony Weiner? Defending no one else may be as provocative now, but in her daring Wypijewski has leapt from the provocative to the frivolous, if not to outright insult of the same history she claims to respect.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It isn't the sexting at the heart of the issue, but the lack of dignity and self-control. We expect our politicians to be the "cream of the crop", not the sleazy, back-alley denizens so many of them seem to be.

Would she feel the same if his addiction was gambling? Alcoholism? Heroin? What if he was sending lewd pictures to children - would that be okay in her book?

What about "character"? Should a potential public servant not be above reproach? Shouldn't we expect a man or woman of impeachable character to represent us? Or does Wypijewski believe we should elect prostitutes, drug dealers and mob dons as government officials as well?