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The Party of Righteous Indignation

A Commentary by Joe Conason

Grossly distasteful may be the most dignified way to describe the behavior of Rep. Anthony Weiner, but it is impossible to discuss what he has confessed to doing without words like crazy, predatory, repulsive, irresponsible and immature. If he hopes to preserve his sanity and his marriage, he might well consider abandoning politics for psychiatric care. Without professional help, he will never recover from the narcissism that has warped him and injured everyone close to him.

Bright as he is, Weiner appears to have believed quite stupidly that his online misconduct could remain concealed. To those who have observed the New York Democrat for years, his callowness and arrogance have been no secret. Those obvious defects were balanced by his political instincts, dogged liberalism, and sheer capacity for the hard work of public life -- until now. He hasn't changed and he won't go without a struggle.

It is hard to imagine that Weiner could reject the growing bipartisan demands for his resignation without the quiet support of his wife, Huma Abedin. Those who know her well are universally admiring. But it is still harder to imagine any elected Democrat joining her in an endorsement of another term in Congress for him -- especially given the evidence that he committed some of these acts during the first year of their marriage, even after learning that she is pregnant.

Let's hope that we will soon be able to dismiss this distracting scandal, at least for a while. Weiner is actually a very minor figure in Washington; neither his salvation nor his doom can solve the real problems that the nation confronts. He cannot escape the growing disgust of his district's constituents, the obvious anger of his party's leaders, or the eventual judgment of the House Committee on Ethics.

Which brings us to the difference between Democrats and Republicans whenever scandal erupts. Republicans present themselves as the party of moral rectitude; Democrats present themselves as the party of modern tolerance. But in fact, congressional Democratic leaders are far less tolerant of corruption in their own ranks than their opponents, whose tacit acceptance of all brands of turpitude is boggling.

Consider the matter of David Vitter, the Louisiana senator who has confessed to patronizing prostitutes without losing the financial and political support of his fellow Republicans. Vitter may not be as repellent as Weiner, but paying for prostituted sex is still a crime in most parts of this country. Luckily for him, the Republican bosses on Capitol Hill don't mind. In The Huffington Post, Paul Blumenthal points out that the same Republicans calling for Weiner to step down have donated many thousands of dollars to ensure that Vitter stayed in the Senate -- and so he has.

Most Republican politicians have shown the same nonchalant attitude toward Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, who finally stepped down while awaiting a Senate Ethics Committee report that he must have known would recommend a federal criminal probe of $96,000 in payoffs to his former mistress and her family. The Justice Department may reopen its investigation of Ensign, but his party let him stay in office as long as he liked.

The Senate report reveals that Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), a loud voice of the religious right, conspired to help Ensign hush up the affair with his staffer, including millions of dollars in secret payments from his family trust. Coburn's role may have been felonious, but don't expect the Senate Republican leadership to complain about him.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader and former speaker, immediately urged the Ethics Committee to pursue Weiner's offenses. Other Democratic leaders have already said that Weiner should step down. As New York Times blogger Nate Silver suggests, Democratic leaders in his home state may well decide to erase him in redistricting.

His odds of surviving politically would be greater if only he were on the other side of the aisle, in the party of righteous (and phony) indignation.


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See Other Commentary by Joe Conason.

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