Maine’s two Democratic House representatives are split in their views of what embattled Rep. Anthony Weiner, the New York Democrat who has admitted to sending sexually explicit photos of himself to women, should do. Their divergent views reflect the internal conflict among Americans on what standards we use to judge our elected officials.
Rep. Mike Michaud believes Rep. Weiner should resign for his family’s sake. Rep. Weiner’s wife is expecting the couple’s first child. “Probably the best decision would be to step down,” Rep. Michaud said. The scandal is embarrassing to Democratic House members, and Rep. Michaud and his colleagues probably would like it and Rep. Weiner to go away.
Meanwhile, Rep. Chellie Pingree wants the House to investigate whether he has violated any rules, but she believes the final judges of Rep. Weiner’s behavior are the voters of his district.
We’ve seen these two views before. When President Bill Clinton lied about his affair with a White House intern, people were outraged at his moral depravity. Others, while disappointed in his bad behavior, wanted to set the man’s failings aside and judge only his job performance.
Republicans have seen their share of sex scandals as well in recent years, with former Rep. Mark Foley sending sexual messages to congressional pages and Sen. David Vitter admitting to having sex with prostitutes.
And if we survey American history, we can find similar examples, making the case that such failings are nothing new. In fact, we might postulate that those who are supremely ambitious, confident and driven to win high office also are prone to believing the rules of conduct do not apply to them.
Europeans tolerate sexual dalliances outside marriage in their elected officials more than Americans, prompting the oft-repeated observation that we are restrained by our Puritan roots. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi finally is facing the music on his not-too-private sexual escapades, but only because prosecutors believe he was involved with an underage prostitute.
Despite popular culture trends to the contrary, most of us can agree that sexual relationships should be private. But once the affair with the intern, the visits to the prostitute, the explicit photos are reported publicly, we must come to an understanding of them.
Two factors ultimately must guide how we judge Rep. Weiner and those who have behaved similarly. Both relate to his job.
We expect decorum of those who hold public responsibilities. More important, Rep. Weiner’s behavior was reckless and showed poor judgment regarding his family and personal life. His constituents expect him to use judgment in weighing threats to national security and the economy. His actions suggest that judgment was impaired, at least out of the office.
Rep. Pingree is correct in leaving final judgment to Rep. Weiner and the voters of his district. But the rest of us can privately conclude that Rep. Weiner is not fit for the office he holds.