The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

I’m going to think about Anthony Weiner this one last time and then that’s it

Weiner is venturing back into the public eye. How should we think of him now?

Anthony Weiner leaves federal court in 2017 after being sentenced to 21 months in prison. (TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
7 min

Anthony Weiner — that guy! — has a new radio show, airing Saturdays on WABC in New York, featuring discussions about politics with conservative co-host and fellow unsuccessful New York mayoral candidate Curtis Sliwa.

This marks a return to the public realm for a man, Weiner, whose private life has perhaps shaped American public life more than some of us can bear to think about.

And you have no idea how many different ways I have tried, over the years, to think about Anthony Weiner.

Anthony Weiner: In the fall of 2016, law enforcement seized a laptop from the former congressman, who had resigned in a sexting scandal in 2011, and who then ran for New York mayor in 2013, and who then withdrew from that race in another sexting scandal. A third round of sexting scandal involved a 15-year-old, which meant it came to involve the FBI. So the feds took the computer and found emails from Weiner’s wife’s boss, which would be unremarkable except that his wife’s boss was Hillary Clinton, who was then running for president of the United States. An investigation into her email server was very publicly reopened just before the election. Clinton lost.

Anthony Weiner: Is this man — this milksop, this harlequin in boxers — actually single-handedly responsible for our current political reality?

Anthony Weiner: There is no better illustration of the symbiotic relationship between power and sexual misbehavior than Anthony Weiner. Did fame make him think he could get away with it? Or was it actually this: the same trait that made him seek fame also made him seek the attention of women he met online?

“The stuff I went through,” is how he refers to his past on his new radio show. “My problems.” “The list of things that I did.”

You can’t blame him for the euphemisms. The whole situation — photos he’d attempted to send privately to women but instead accidentally posted publicly on Twitter — was cringe. The hangdog facial expressions, the pixelated bulges. Back in 2011, politicians’ affairs were still carried out in person, in hotel rooms or via D.C. madams. We didn’t have the language for whatever this was.

We talked about Anthony Weiner, and we talked about things that we’d talk about more and more in the years following his scandal, especially where it concerned disgraced public figures. Enter: discussions of sex, sex appeal, what women want, what men think they want. Enter: issues of power dynamics, issues of online privacy. Anthony Weiner was the canary in our coal mine.

Anthony Weiner: Carlos Danger. Yikes!

Anthony Weiner: There is also no better illustration for what it looks like for a shunned man to try to inch back into the public arena. He went to rehab at a facility that treats cybersex addiction. He went to prison, on charges of obscenity. He pleaded guilty; he said he understood why the judge had to make an example of him. He went to a halfway house. He found work at a recycled-glass countertop company, of all places, and then he worked with that company as it tried to hire other ex-convicts.

At around the same time that Weiner’s new radio show was premiering last month, another exiled New York politician was also testing his public reentry. In 2018 Eric Schneiderman, then the state’s attorney general, was accused of physically and emotionally abusing his romantic partners and has apparently spent the four years since, according to a lengthy BuzzFeed News article, examining his sins with the help of an uncommonly patient female friend.

Schneiderman was working to understand “the scope of misogyny and sexism,” he told BuzzFeed.

“I believe in taking responsibility,” said Anthony Weiner on his show.

Schneiderman: “[I] benefited from the American patriarchal structure.”

Weiner: “I’m not a bad man trying to be good. I’m a sick man trying to get well.”

If this isn’t rehabilitation, what is? The power corners of America — politics, entertainment, media — spent several years necessarily cleaning their houses of offenders. Do we expect all of these men to stay outside forever? Are we to read these re-entries as genuine admissions of shame and guilt, or are we to wonder why they need to reenter the public eye at all?

What more do we want from Anthony Weiner?

Anthony Weiner: Is there anything to admire about the fact that he simply won’t stop seeking comebacks? Something uniquely American? One recent Saturday he repeatedly told co-host Curtis Sliwa that he wanted to be of use. Of service.

Maybe what we now want from Anthony Weiner is. . . nothing. Maybe the problem is he keeps trying (and trying and trying) to give himself to us?

Anthony Weiner: There is a Spanish phrase, pena ajena, which has no direct English translation. It is used when someone else’s embarrassment is so great that it spills over, and you yourself feel embarrassment, and that is how I feel about Anthony Weiner.

Anthony Weiner: The Huma of it all. In a 2013 documentary following Weiner’s failed mayoral run, the attention is meant to be on his political career, but it’s impossible to look at anything besides Huma Abedin’s face. Her frozen smile, her hunched shoulders, the haunted look of a woman who cannot possibly want to be there, and yet would remain there for three more years until their separation in 2016. To watch Huma Abedin was to be perpetually reminded that nobody knows what goes on in a marriage besides the two people in it, and yet — Girl, run.

Anthony Weiner: I did email the radio station, requesting an interview with Anthony Weiner, and he didn’t get back to me. Maybe he feels that he’s atoned enough, apologized enough, and opening his mouth again could result in putting his foot in it.

Anthony Weiner: needs to do something with his life. It’s easy to say that Weiner should have just stayed in the recycled glass countertop industry rather than launching a radio show. But if he’s such a bad guy, then why would we subject countertop workers to being around him? And if he’s redeemable, then why waste his talents? His experience with Democratic politics is substantial, and since he’s not running for election or trying to hold on to office, he has no reason to offer spin or doublespeak. “I don’t really have anything to B.S. anymore,” he said, and it sounded like he meant it.

Anthony Weiner: Against all odds and for no discernible reason, I find myself wanting to root for him. And that is why the man is able to hit rock bottom so many times after hitting rock bottom. The bounce.

Anthony Weiner: Is asked to comment on air about whether Hillary Clinton is signaling she might run again. Your brain explodes! (He said he doubts it.)

Anthony Weiner: What is the difference between bad and being sick, and does that difference matter to the people hurt by your actions? This is another question that has remained relevant to our post-Weiner politics.

One can’t help but think that there will be another Weiner scandal at some point in our collective future. One doesn’t hope for it, but one does worry. Another photo. Another text. Another comeback from the tail that wagged the dog of American democracy.

Weiner is arguably responsible for our political reality. But our political reality is way too big and urgent to waste brain cells thinking about him any longer.

Anthony Weiner: Hello again, and farewell.