Democrats were not offering subtle signals to Rep. Anthony Weiner that they wanted him to quit. One after another, they whacked him with the verbal equivalents of two-by-fours. From the president of the United States to the Democratic House leader to the chair of the Democratic National Committee — and on and on from there — they told Weiner that they were tired of seeing his story dominate the news.
He got the message. Some Democrats were annoyed that he didn’t just send a letter or issue a statement. But come on, this is Anthony Weiner. He was not going to go quietly. They should just be grateful that he’s moving on.
I was struck by a stray comment I heard on a cable channel. “Will this end the distraction?” Actually, that is almost entirely up to the media themselves.Unless there is some legal development in the story that puts Weiner in jeopardy, this should end it. No new pictures, assuming there are new pictures, will add anything of substance to what we already know.
How much did this damage Democrats? It did change the story line from coverage of another politician whose name Democrats could not repeat often enough: Rep. Kathy Hochul, who won the party its special election victory in New York’s 26th District and put the Paul Ryan budget and its Medicare proposals at the very center of the political dialogue. Every Democrat wanted that story to stay alive forever. Moving Hochul offstage and replacing her with the Weiner of this particular caper is not a casting change than any Democrat would have ordered up. On the other hand, with Democrat after Democrat condemning Weiner and demanding he go, it’s hard to see any permanent damage. It certainly didn’t hurt the party to have important Democratic women such as Nancy Pelosi and Debbie Wasserman Schultz pressing the case against him.
And let’s be clear: Weiner’s resignation was a political imperative, not a moral imperative. Given all the politicians who have hung around after a variety of scandals, I see no discernible moral rule about who should quit and who shouldn’t. But his situation was unsustainable politically, partly because the entire leadership of his party was furious over how much attention his scandal was drawing away from other things, and partly because this was not the sort of sin that voters are familiar with. High-tech exhibitionism is something entirely new and strange. Ezra Klein pithily summed up his other problems: “He’s paying for how media-friendly his indiscretions were, how the pictures and transcripts kept dribbling out, how little goodwill he had among his fellow Democrats.”
Now, can he come back? Sure, assuming that there are no new revelations. Americans like comeback stories, and the traditional theological formula works pretty well in politics: confession, repentance, and then good works. (In the modern era, we’ve added therapy.) You pray that forgiveness follows. Weiner signaled that this is the route he wants to take when he told reporters that he was “looking for other ways to contribute my talents.” After a decent interval — probably longer than Weiner would like — he could reappear, talk about what he’s learned from his transgressions, develop a gift for self-deprecating humor (he does have a sense of humor), and do something community-oriented that has absolutely nothing to do with politics. It would help if he developed a bit of humility, not a virtue that seems to come easily to him. And he has a special advantage: Every cable TV booker has his number.
One caveat: All leading Democrats in Washington are praying that his comeback effort doesn’t start too soon. They hope that he takes a long, long time out of the spotlight before launching Weiner, the Repentance Tour. But be prepared. It will happen.
POSTSCRIPT: Let’s give Steve Stromberg three cheers for calmly listing elsewhere on this blog the genuinely important things that happened today. It was a lovely, quiet cry of protest against the media’s obsession with this story.