Why Not Leave Weiner to the Voters?

Posted June 13, 2011, at 11:57 p.m.

Anthony Weiner is not a good husband. But why does that mean he is not a good legislator? The closest I’ve seen to an answer to this question came from James Fallows, who argued that Weiner “worked himself into a position where, now, his lack of judgment hurts not just him but many other people who relied on him and were his allies. He has let them down, and he will hurt their cause every time he speaks in its favor now.”

Weiner essentially has two jobs. He is a congressman representing a particular district in New York. And he is a high-profile media surrogate for the progressive cause. Two months from now, which of these constituencies will be hurt when Weiner speaks in their favor? The voters who elected him in Brooklyn? That’s for them to decide. The cable networks that invite him onto their shows? The progressives that enjoy watching him on television? Is Weiner really going to advocate for the expiration of the Bush tax cuts only to be shouted down because he sent nude pictures to his Facebook friends? It’s not at all obvious to me that Weiner’s future effectiveness has been so impaired that he has no choice save to resign.

Bill Clinton, after all, had actual sexual relations with an intern. In the White House. While he was president. And now? People love hearing Clinton. Democrats thrill to his speeches, to his clear explanations of policy, to his easy connection with the electorate. Republicans are, somewhat surprisingly, publicly nostalgic for the philandering ex-president. Clinton’s personal failings are clear. But we’re listening to the guy, not marrying him.

To some degree, the call to resign quickly — as opposed to be judged by his constituents in the next election — seems to be a way for writers to declare their personal adherence to a strong moral code. Some of these arguments seem to imply that if you’re not calling for Weiner to go, you’re not sufficiently appalled by his behavior. “There’s a tendency among bloggers, maybe among everybody, to over-analyze and over-intellectualize scandals such as this one that has the pernicious effect of obscuring what I think is a very basic point,” writes Josh Green. “Weiner had so little regard for his office, his constituents, and his duty as a member of Congress that he apparently thought nothing of tweeting pictures of his genitals to random women.” Megan McArdle puts it more pointedly: “A lot of over-35’s, including me, view this behavior as pathologically reckless. A lot of under-35’s are saying ‘meh, what’s the big deal? Lots of people do it!”’

For the record, I’ve heard precisely no under-35s suggest its commonplace for members of Congress, or for individuals in committed relationships, to tweet their genitals around town. And, further for the record, if I were married to Anthony Weiner, I’d divorce him, and if a friend of mine were married to Anthony Weiner, I’d tell them to divorce him.

But my hesitation in calling for Weiner’s resignation is simple enough: I didn’t elect the guy. And I don’t see any reason why the people who did elect him shouldn’t have the opportunity to consider his behavior, consider his job performance over the next year and change, and then decide whether to return him to office. Weiner’s behavior might have been appalling, but I’ve yet to see any one explain why it shouldn’t be judged by his district during an election. What urgency is there to act now, at the height of his and our humiliation and embarrassment over this episode, rather than in the next election?

Perhaps Weiner’s constituents will decide that his faithlessness and his lies have eroded their trust in him. Or perhaps they’ll decide that his facility in front of the cameras, his ability to argue eloquently and forcefully on behalf of ideas they believe in, make him irreplaceable, or at least superior to the other options they’re presented with. The two polls that have been conducted  since Weiner’s announcement returned opposite results. If I were one of his constituents, I’m not sure what I’d decide. But if I were one of his constituents, I think I’d like the opportunity to make the decision.

Ezra Klein blogs at www.washingtonpost.com and contributes columns to the Business section of the Washington Post.

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