Anthony Weiner: Was resignation the right response to personal indiscretion?


Rep. Anthony Weiner announced on Thursday that he is resigning from Congress, following a “sexting” scandal that has put him — and the question of his resignation — in the spotlight for weeks. (John Minchillo/AP)

Here at the On Leadership section of The Washington Post, we’ve been exploring the bigger leadership questions surrounding both Weiner’s actions and the question of his resignation.

A panel of experts explored why we see so many sex scandals, like Anthony Weiner’s, involving men in prominent political positions. Anthropologist and psychoanalyst Michael Maccoby explains how “narcissistic leaders have weak consciences (superegos, in psychoanalytic terms). That allows them to twist the truth and shift their positions in ways that people with strong consciences couldn’t do without squirming with guilt.” He also adds that “these are people who have chosen a very risky career path. The same personality type may also be attracted to affairs where the sexual thrill is enhanced by the danger of getting caught.”

Stanford professor and leadership expert Jeffrey Pfeffer, on the other hand, attributed the phenomenon less to the distinct psychology of those in power (the list of non-newsworthy folks behaving inappropriately every day, he writes, is vast). He says it’s more a result of men like Weiner misunderstanding just how much scrutiny they’re really under as leaders. “Being in a senior, very visible leadership role requires that you think constantly about how what you are doing and saying would look if it were on the front page of a major newspaper,” Pfeffer writes. “That’s a focus of attention and discipline that seemingly taxes mere mortals.”

Still, whatever the root causes of Weiner’s behavior, ever since it made news he’s been forced to confront the question of whether his misdeeds merit a resignation from his position in the House of Representatives.

Only weeks earlier, IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn faced a similar question and announced his resignation following allegations that he had sexually assaulted a hotel maid, even as he maintained his innocence. Still, as Post Leadership blogger Jena McGregor writes, the real question for Weiner (as with many high-profile figures in such situations) is less “Can he keep his job?” and more “Why would he want to?”

“Having lost the support of so many of his colleagues and now, it seems, the president of the country he serves,” McGregor writes, “his ability to be an effective member of Congress seems unlikely, if not exceedingly difficult.”

That rationale, however, may elude a politician like Anthony Weiner, also according to McGregor. Similar to Michael Maccoby, she points out that leadership figures have unique characteristics that can negatively influence their personal judgement:

The same kind of ambition and audacity that prompts people to run for office can also make them believe they can weather any storm. The very attributes that are appealing in many leaders—a thick skin, the ability to ignore critics, the determination to stand up for one’s beliefs—have a dark side, too: They keep some leaders from knowing when it’s time to go.

So yes, it may have not have been Weiner’s first instinct to resign; still, he did ultimately come to the same conclusion as many others who have found themselves at the center of scandal.

We want to know: Do you think a professional resignation is the right response to a personal indiscretion? Add a comment!

Michael Maccoby: Sexual misconduct by men in power

Jeffrey Pfeffer: The difference between you and Anthony Weiner

Alaina Love: From Weiner to Schwarzenegger, the intoxication of power

Jena McGregor: Why won't Anthony Weiner resign?

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Lillian Cunningham is the editor and feature writer for The Washington Post's 'On Leadership' section.

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