OHATCHEE, Al. June 15, 2011 — Last week, I happened to be running errands on a military post when the nearest TV displayed Fox News Channel announcing that Representative Anthony Weiner (D-NY) was about to make a statement concerning his rumored online affairs at any moment.
The next thing I knew, Andrew Breitbart approached the empty podium. Yes, Andrew “that-fool-lying-punk-fake-journalist” Breitbart, who happened to get all the facts straight in this outrageous scandal while (if I’m not mistaken) recovering from the brink of pneumonia and intending to be on Memorial Day vacation.
He was promptly rewarded by some with the slanderous accusation of being the Twitter “hacker” that Representative Weiner flippantly referred to.
To make a long story short, Weiner – who has been a representative from New York since I lived there as a little girl – could no longer dodge questions about congressional internet security when more scurrilous photographs surfaced that clearly identified the “hacker” to be Weiner himself.
Thus, the 46-year-old congressman who has not yet reached his first wedding anniversary tearfully confessed that his adulterous internet flings (and subsequent deception about it) were “destructive”.
“I don’t know what I was thinking,” said Weiner, as he took responsibility for the crazy photos that were sent to various women across the country, most of whom he had met on Facebook.
While watching coverage of this scandal, it appears to me that old school journalists have made some misconceptions about the use of online social networking. There is nothing inappropriate about a member of Congress or political candidate following a young constituent, supporter or media contributor on Twitter or Facebook. For instance, I am followed unobtrusively by Michele Bachmann, Eric Cantor, Thaddeus McCotter, Joe Miller and Dale Peterson, among others. That is merely using a social network for what it is – a network. Twitter is a great way to observe the public’s reaction to various breaking news stories and policy issues.
The line between inappropriate relationships in a network is as clear on the internet as it is off the internet. Weiner crossed it with no qualms whatsoever, and then unconvincingly lied about it to cover up his indiscretion. He would have done well to consider the divine admonition that his ancestors received through Moses: Be sure your sin will find you out.
Perhaps Weiner was taking cues from Machiavelli instead. To the Renaissance political theorist, it was completely possible and advisable to separate public morality from private morality. Essentially, Machiavelli’s warning was that all subjects are immoral and yet admire morality, so a ruler out of necessity must disregard morality in private while maintaining a public façade of righteousness. (What do you think happens to the messengers who blow his cover?)
However wrong that may be in the first place, the internet world has dissolved the effectiveness of that tactic – and every public figure should be well aware of this by now. Anything sent or published on the World Wide Web risks disclosure at some point (even tens of thousands of Sarah Palin’s e-mails).
But what does Weiner’s “sexting” have to do with political power anyway?
In light of Weiner’s bawdy conversations with Las Vegas blackjack dealer Lisa Weiss, Kirsten Powers – a liberal commentator and former girlfriend of Weiner – wrote that “[t]his is not about sex. It’s about dominating and inflicting physical pain on a woman, a fantasy the hard-core porn industry makes billions of dollars on selling to men.” Powers observed that you don’t have such sadistic fantasies “unless you have some serious issues with the way you see women.”
In an archaic dimension of power politics, women are meant to be collectible court mistresses – the trophies that are frowned upon yet somehow supposed to be well-deserved.
Silly as it may sound, a subconscious stigma about women in politics appears to linger because of this.
Right before Weinergate broke, MSNBC host Ed Schultz was suspended for making a sexist slur against Laura Ingraham on his radio show (he apologized and returned in time to cover Weiner’s apology). Schultz’s remark was a mild taste of a prevalent attitude towards (particularly conservative) women in politics in recent times.
When a Tea Party rally took place in Wisconsin earlier this year, Madison talk show host Vicki McKenna was called a “skanky whore”, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch (R-WI) was mocked in lewd terms, and 14-year-old homeschooled student Tricia Willoughby had similar profanities slung at her while speaking at the event.
“It’s very sad to see how hate-filled they are,” Willoughby told me over the phone about the protestors. “And it just makes their party look even worse when they do things like that.”
Radio show producer Elisha Krauss routinely experiences profane verbal assault, as does talk radio host and editor Dana Loesch. Female writers such as S.E. Cupp, Jedediah Bila and even I have received similar treatment online.
What’s up with slapping the harlot label on chaste maidens and faithful wives who uphold moral values?
It is an ironic (and wrong) description of the occupation of a politically opposed female, a description which Michelle Malkin identified as “intellectual prostitute”. It is a perverted idea of femininity which veils women with a price tag, keeping them beholden to the highest bidder.
What about the politically supportive female? It highly depends, but her treatment isn’t necessarily dignified.
As far as we know, the virtual harem that Weiner cultivated as a cyber Casanova began with women who admired him for his political power and agenda. In a brief amount of time, their political discussions became eroticized.
Meagan Broussard, a 26-year-old single mother and full-time college student from Texas, says she was not interested in Weiner’s sexual advances, and in fact began to doubt his Facebook identity when he behaved that way. But when it became clear that it really was the congressman from New York’s 9th district, Broussard was sure Weiner was doing this with multiple women and would eventually “get hemmed up.”
When Sean Hannity asked Broussard how she felt about being somewhat of a victim of Weiner’s prowling, Broussard replied, “I wouldn’t say victim.”
With the possible exception of the seventeen year old in Delaware, the women who have come forward in this controversy are accountable adults (and I’ll add here that even a teenager is generally considered a young woman, not a young girl). Women who are at least in their twenties are old enough to know better than to keep up an amorous relationship with a married politician (it is also a bad idea to even joke about being the girlfriend of a married politician).
Why would any of these women – and Weiner himself – and his constituents, come to think of it – treat this (originally private) immorality as something irrelevant to the rest of society?
Evidently in a secularized society, nothing is considered sacred anymore.
I’m not talking about “secular” as in the constitutional distinction between the governing traditions of church and state. Rather, I’m referring to secularized as in the opposite of sacred – and it is an age old conflict, not a phenomenon unique to the 21st century (although for the first time in history we have online networks that offer “open relationship” as a social status).
The very root word of secular has to do with that which is fleeting, temporal, and inconstant (“You only go around once in life, so you have to grab all the gusto you can get…”).
If there is not some sense of sacredness acknowledged despite the secular, there will be no stability or permanence to any institution.
This is why President George Washington was accurate (and utterly constitutional) when he said in his farewell address,
“Let it simply be asked, Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice?”
Weiner (whose wedding was officiated by Bill Clinton, interestingly enough) was newly married, and obligation seemed to desert the congressman’s oath until he got caught violating it.
Weiner said that he had not planned to hurt his wife with his behavior. Of course he probably didn’t intend to – he was merely compartmentalizing his actions in harmony with a secularized ideal of life. That compartmentalization is what keeps standards for elected officials low in this country.
According to MSNBC host Chris Matthews, “only people in the rural areas of this country who are Christian conservative culturally – you can say backward if you want – …don’t like this kind of stuff at all.”
We can only imagine what President Washington’s response would be.
Amanda Read is an unconventional scholar, a Southerner without an accent, a Christian who hasn’t been a churchgoer in 17 years and a college student who lives with eight younger siblings. A writer and artist, she blogs at www.amandaread.com and is the author of the historical drama screenplay The Crusading Chemist. Amanda is majoring in history and minoring in political science at Troy University.
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