Ruth Marcus
Columnist June 7, 2011

Anthony, Anthony, Anthony.

Welcome back to Powerful Men Behaving Badly, Weiner Edition. There’s a lot of competition, but this episode may be the stupidest and most pathetic of all.

Ruth Marcus is a columnist and editorial writer for The Post, specializing in American politics and domestic policy. View Archive

Some of our contestants — former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford mooning over his Argentine soul mate, former Nevada senator John Ensign lusting after his wife’s best friend — at least have the excuse of believing they were in love.

Others can argue that discomfort, their own or society’s, over their sexual orientation contributed to their downfall: former Idaho senator Larry Craig and his “wide stance,” former House member Mark Foley’s sexually explicit instant messages with congressional pages; former House member Eric Massa’s alleged groping of male staffers.

Still others who self-destructed (former New York governor Eliot Spitzer with a prostitute) or who, amazingly enough, managed not to self-destruct (current Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, ditto) at least got something out of the sordid transaction.

Have I forgotten anyone? Yes, Bill Clinton, Arnold Schwarzenegger and John Edwards, among others. Put them in the last category, self-destruction with benefits.

The sad, striking thing about the Weiner episode is that it is so juvenile. A grown man — a married man — taking pictures of himself in his skivvies and sending them on Twitter. A grown man allegedly messaging a different Facebook friend about the “ridiculous bulge in my shorts now. wanna see?

As the mother of teenagers, I found Weiner’s excruciating 27-minute news conference disturbingly familiar. “I don’t know what I was thinking,” Weiner answered a reporter. What parents have not found themselves asking the same disbelieving question of an errant child — and getting the same unedifying response?

What parents have not told their children, time after time, that, whatever you’ve done, you only dig yourself in deeper by lying about it? “It was a dumb thing to do to try to tell lies about it because it just led to more lies,” Weiner said.

What parents in the modern world have not warned their children about being careful what you put online — and, in some horrifying cases, found their children incapable of taking that advice? “From time to time I would say to myself, ‘This is a mistake,’ or, ‘This conversation someone could listen in on or translate to someone else,’ ” Weiner said. “In this case, it was just me doing a very dumb thing.”

The full 27 minutes should be required viewing for every high school student.

Weiner, of course, is long out of high school, which raises the question: How could he? And the broader question: What is with these men?

The Weiner episode entails three strands of politicians gone wild, braided into a peculiarly modern cautionary tale.

I’ve suggested previously that one explanation for sexual misconduct by politicians is a misplaced sense of entitlement: believing they can get away with this behavior.

Weiner intellectually understood the risk he was taking; emotionally, he seems to have deluded himself into believing he was immune from ordinary consequences. Otherwise, he might have stopped the first time his not-yet-wife caught him straying online.

Weiner’s conduct reflects another aspect of the male political animal: the creepy link between the politician’s appetite for votes and adulation and his questing after sexual attention and conquest. Politicians tend to be a needy bunch. Being loved is their validation. Their egos require constant stroking, so it is not particularly surprising if other parts of their anatomy demand similar attention.

Anyone who saw Bill Clinton work a rope line understands the elemental link between craving the roar of the crowd and the affections of the opposite sex. Getting someone to go to bed with you — even virtually — is another way of showing that you have won her vote.

The virtual part involves the third aspect of the Weiner story: the emerging role of emerging technologies in political downfalls. Time was, the politician’s self-inflicted wound might come from his diary: former Oregon senator Bob Packwood’s recording of instances of sexual harassment. Time was, politicians had to taunt us to follow them around: former presidential candidate Gary Hart on the boat named “Monkey Business.”

Now the medium (Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, instant messaging) is simultaneously the mechanism of misconduct and the evidence thereof. All instantly grabbable as a screenshot and capable of being shared with millions.

When will they ever learn? My conclusion, into a third decade of writing about these foibles: No time soon.

ruthmarcus@washpost.com