Project Wonderful

Monday, July 8, 2013

An Affair to Pretend Not to Remember

Nancy's Note: I cut this post in half because it tells two different stories about two different politicians. Stay tuned for part II.

Devotees will remember that I have a personal relationship with the phenomenon of the disgraced politician. While leading a recent organizer training, I found myself in the somewhat new position of having to explain who John Edwards is and why I revile him so. "Wow, you must really hate Bill Clinton," one organizer responded. Well, no. For one thing, Bill Clinton never made a liar out of me. He never funneled money to his mistress while habitually being late with my paycheck. And, this last one is somewhat debatable, he didn't put control of the presidency in jeopardy for the Democratic party. Still, this organizer's question touched a nerve. Where do I draw the line when it comes to infidelity and indiscretion perpetrated by my elected officials? This question has become particularly salient since two such politicians announced their candidacy in elections in which I will cast a vote. I plan not to vote for Elliot Spitzer or Anthony Weiner, although maybe not for the reasons one might think.

Bill Clinton had the good fortune of being done running for office by the time his infidelities took center stage. If he had been up for election in 1998 and I had not been 14 there is a good chance I would not have supported him. It isn't the infidelity I object to. Although I idolize Hillary Clinton, I don't pretend to know what goes on in other people's marriages. Besides, if she can forgive him, I certainly can. Moreover, when it comes to hiring an accountant or doctor, I want the person who will do the best job for me, not the person who is nicest to his or her spouse. Why should my choice in an elected official be any different? I would not have supported President Clinton because of the apparent power imbalance between him and Monica Lewinsky. She was a 22-year-old intern and he was President of the United States. You would be hard-pressed to find a clearer case for sexual harassment and abuse of power. The fact that he had been accused of other incidents of a similar nature does not help his case.

When we talk about Clinton in the liberal community, we tend to ignore the scandal that was once the focal point of his career. Meanwhile, Monica Lewinsky's political future was doomed the moment their affair became public. To this day Lewinsky is the poster-child for intern jokes, while Clinton has gone on to have an illustrious post-Presidential career. All this despite the fact that Clinton's position of power and responsibility made him far more culpable than Lewinsky. Had this been another man, another profession or another time Monica Lewinsky would be considered a victim.

That said, my fervent admiration for and slight crush on present-day Bill Clinton is well-documented. His commitment to ending climate change and improving global health, continued support of Democratic candidates and apparently reformed private life have regained him my esteem. Clinton is exceptional for his charisma, ability to deliver a nuanced message and commitment to progressive causes. We have not seen such a politician since he left office and likely won't for a long time. I mention Bill Clinton's exceptional intelligence, skill and charm because the of the comparisons we are likely to hear from Spitzer and Weiner as they attempt to rebrand themselves. To paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, you sirs are no Bill Clinton.

Before he resigned from Congress, Anthony Weiner was often likened to Bill Clinton. He was known for his wit as a liberal bulldog. His wife, Huma Abedin, worked for Secretary of State Clinton and President Clinton even officiated at their wedding. Again, Weiner's infidelity is not the problem, if it was infidelity at all. Honestly, I could imagine being Huma Abedin, being several months pregnant working a full schedule in an often long-distance marriage and my husband saying to me, "Honey I want to wack it to some facebook chats about how hot I must have looked in my Bar Mitzvah pictures" and me saying, "Knock yourself out." My problem is Weiner's spectacularly poor judgment in the execution. When your career is on the line, one would think you'd be more careful with your tweets. When Weiner resigned, I argued that his judgement, poor though it was, was not reason enough for him to be ousted. If we kicked people out of elected office for having bad decision making skills, half of Congress would have to resign. At the same time, I am not running to vote for someone who could be so professionally careless.

When the smoke cleared it became semi-public knowledge that one of the reasons Weiner did not receive more cover from Democrats was that he was personally unpleasant to work with. I heard stories of him screaming and even throwing office equipment at his staff (by which I mean the people who work for him) an accusation I take seriously as a political staffer. In the end Weiner just doesn't have the track record that a legend like Bill Clinton does. For all his soapboxing, what did Anthony Weiner actually accomplish? Making Anthony Weiner famous, which evidenced by the fact that he entered a crowded primary already replete with qualified candidates, seems to still be his goal.

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