April 11, 2013
Anthony Weiner (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Anthony Weiner (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

It was Anthony Weiner’s bad luck to announce he might run for New York City mayor the same week Margaret Thatcher died. The two are not directly related and they may never have even met. But the Iron Lady, no matter what you might think of her, offers a magisterial rebuke to Weiner, who attributes his asinine behavior to the politician’s need to be liked. He is, he now says, not the attack dog he once was thought to be, but something of a slobbering Golden Retriever seeking some comforting words and a little tuck under the chin.

Weiner, you might recall, was hounded from Congress in 2011 after – oops – he tweeted pictures of himself in his undies to something like several thousand people instead of the single woman he had intended. It transpired that Weiner was in the habit of such tweets and while some might allege bad taste and a certain meshuga recklessness, the fact remained that the law was not broken and no one, as far as we know, either died or suffered emotional trauma. It was my view then — and it remains so now — that Weiner should have stayed in congress and let the voters decide if he was morally fit to represent them. For some reason, I did not prevail and Weiner went bye-bye.

Now Weiner is back and in lengthy interview with the New York Times suggests he may run for mayor. Fine, I say. I detect no groundswell, but fine. I see no reason for such a candidacy, but fine. What is not fine is that Weiner is asking the public for rehabilitation. That is something he ought to do himself. But Weiner’s essential hollowness is on display elsewhere in the Times article when he explains what caused him to Twitter his career away:

“I was in a world and a profession that had me wanting people’s approval. By definition, when you are a politician, you want people to like you. You want people to respond to what you’re doing, you want to learn what they want to hear so you can say it to them. Twitter and Facebook allowed for me — not only could I go to a town-hall meeting or a senior center or in front of the TV camera, but now I could sit and hear what people were saying all around. Search your name on Google, begat read comments on your Facebook page, begat looking at what people are saying about you on Twitter, to then trying to engage them. ‘Oh, you should like me!’ ‘No, that’s wrong!’ or ‘Thank you very much!’ And it just started to blur into this desire to engage in it all the time.”

There’s more, but never mind. What comes across is this emptiness, this desire for applause — not that the volcanic and hyper ambitious Weiner was all that likable to begin with. To take him at his own words, this is what he wanted to be: student body president, or something like that.

Back to Thatcher. After her death, mini-riots broke out in Britain. Brits squared off about her legacy — good, bad, evil, wonderful. What is indisputable, though — what both sides can agree on – is that she didn’t care about being popular. She cared only about what she considered right. She had convictions and in an age of spin doctors and thinking by talking points, that has gotten rarer and rarer. Thatcher was helped by a parliamentary system, but she was called the Iron Lady because a rod of that metal ran down her back. She was all backbone.

So Weiner comes before us asking our indulgence so he can resume his career. He doesn’t say why. He doesn’t say what he would do. He doesn’t say what he would stand for. Instead, we get truly painful recollections from his wife and pictures of them both with their kid. At another time, I might have felt disposed to giving him a second thought. But then Thatcher died. Weiner picked the wrong week.

Richard Cohen writes a weekly political column for The Washington Post.