Now that the president has weighed in on Weinergate, it’s hard to see what more could be said to urge Rep. Anthony Weiner to resign. On Monday, Obama said Weiner had embarrassed himself and that “I would resign” if in his position. While it was not an all-out call for him to step down, it came pretty close.
It’s hard to know just why Weiner hasn’t chosen to relinquish his post—at least yet. Perhaps he believes that after rehab treatment and a leave of absence, the whole thing will just go away. (It won’t.) Or perhaps he thinks that with the support of his constituents, which polls say he has, he’s got a chance of keeping his job. (He just might.)
But even if he could, 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, his ability to be an effective member of Congress seems unlikely, if not exceedingly difficult. And that doesn’t take into account the highly embarrassing nature of the scandal. Just when you think it can’t get worse, more sordid details spill out into the public. Most people would want to shrink from such a lurid spotlight—if not for their own sanity, at least for their family’s.
But political leaders are not most people. Rather, the very character traits that got Weiner into his job may be keeping him there, too. 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.
And it’s a natural instinct to want to fight back, clear one’s name and not admit defeat (all qualities that are often more potent in someone who’s sought a public leadership post). Whether it’s the fear of losing a special lifestyle or prestige—or just plain ego—the inclination to fire back is even stronger for people who’ve achieved a certain status in their careers. Weiner was on top of the world before the scandal exploded, contemplating a run for mayor of New York, getting noticed as a rising star in his party, and living with his beautiful and sophisticated wife, a close colleague and friend of Democratic heavyweight and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
I’m not trying to defend Weiner’s apparent resistance to stepping down. But he’s a reminder that some of the very qualities we look for in leaders—ambition, chutzpah and a fighting spirit—can also stand in their way.
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