It's beginning to seem like politicians and professional athletes should come with a tag attached, a kind of disclaimer saying, "Likely to sleep with multiple prostitutes, strippers, and secretly have off-spring with the household staff. Other risks include genital photography displayed on social networking sites and a general affinity for interns and Ambien."
Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power. -- Abraham Lincoln
Politicians have historically not done so well on Lincoln's test. Did you know that perhaps all but two of our former presidents have had mistresses?
I will leave you to guess which two those were. (Hint: Surprisingly, not the president in the wheelchair!)
For those of you who have been asleep under a rock for the last 96 hours, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D- N.Y.) was caught sending a picture of his private namesake to a woman on Twitter. When will we have a political figure, who instead of apologizing in tears says, "My private mistakes have nothing to do with my political abilities"?
The technical mistake Weiner made that threatens to end his marriage, ruin his political career, and destroy his public standing? A one letter typo: Using the @ key instead of the D key on Twitter.
The penis picture probably wasn't such a good idea either.
But what is it about this particular case that has the nation in such uproar? When the law has been broken, minors abused, or public funds used for salacious gain, public retribution seems necessary, even desirable. But a politician sending a text after his work-day?
His wife may care about his "sexting." But should we?
Ideally, we'd like our leaders to set a good example, but should a (sometimes painfully stupid) personal mistake end a promising political career? Weiner has consistently argued and voted in favor of funding non-profit groups that help the poor and he's even able to cleverly debate with Obama on health care reform, and win a few points. Many have been hoping he would eventually run for mayor.
Martin Luther King Jr said that the "measure of a man is where he stands in times of challenge and controversy." The next few weeks are going to tell us a lot about Weiner's character.
In American politics, it's not always about what you do. It's how you handle it.
With the state of our economy and national debt, long-term joblessness, three foreign conflicts, and our nearly radiating each other off of the planet, is an erection on Twitter really worth all of our united and undivided attention? Imagine the power that could be generated if we were all focused on a truly worthy cause.
Weiner, married to Hilary Clinton's aide, just publicly apologized to Bill Clinton, who officiated his wedding. One would think that Bill Clinton, if anyone, would understand and could possibly advise Weiner. He is the only man in public office to weather this sort of sexual public stoning and survive it. Perhaps Winston Churchill would have had the best advice for Weiner: "If you're going through hell," he famously said, "keep going."
JFK, one of our most beloved presidents, is just as renowned for his triumphs out of the office. For example, most people know that he may have slept with Marilyn Monroe, but not that he won the Pulitzer Prize while in office. JFK was so loved by the public, the press knew who he was sleeping with, chose not to disclose it, and what little we've found out (Marilyn) we've hopelessly romanticized.
Sometimes private disasters at home do tell us about what someone is like in office. Schwarzenegger betrayed his wife with a household employee for twenty-years and had a secret love child, destroying his family. Some might argue that his activities in office were equally destructive to the State of California while he was 'Governator.'
But does Weiner's personal unhappiness really dictate what he will be able to achieve politically?
If their biographies are to be believed, Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson all had marital unions that were less than ideal. Their marriages may not be what we aspire to, but that didn't stop them from being truly great leaders. We just don't have the ability to hack into their facebook accounts to hear them say, "Pray, tell me of that luscious milkmaid I see over yonder." And: "Here is a picture of my mule."
Michael Iapoce, in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Boardroom says, "Reputation is character minus what you've been caught doing."
When did our character cease to matter at all?