So Anthony Weiner has resigned. Lacking anything better over which to obsess, the rapidly declining U.S. media created a faux scandal that forced Weiner to resign. The story is very brief. The former House member sent an electronic picture of himself wearing briefs to a woman. Rather than creating a fictional email and Twitter account, Weiner sent the pictures using his official email address. He also used various accounts bearing his name in order to engage in sexual banter and to flirt with several women. The outrage surrounding this issue forced Weiner to resign. Before he resigned, several Democrats -- including President Obama -- told Weiner that he should quit. This decision should upset anyone who believes in personal liberty.
Weiner's conduct was reckless for a politician. He risked getting caught and subjected to a political scandal. This observation, however, does not indict the underlying behavior itself. It only means that he was not politically savvy. With respect to Weiner' conduct, however, there are no allegations (at least credible ones) that he violated any criminal laws, committed a tort, or violated any statutory rights held by any of the women with whom he communicated. In fact, it seems that several of them willingly engaged in sexual banter with Weiner. In other words, Weiner resigned because he engaged in noncriminal sexual conduct that appears to have been consensual or otherwise nonabusive.
The United States has a long and tired history of suppressing consensual sexual conduct. Historically, white women have been viewed as "sexually pure"; they should not engage in or be exposed to sex outside of marriage. Weiner crossed this socially constructed boundary. Dignified male politicians should act like "gentleman." Their sex should remain private and restrained. Weiner crossed this boundary as well. And teenagers, LGBT persons and persons of color have all been stigmatized due to sexual conduct and stereotypes. The reaction to Weiner implicates this long puritanical history that seeks to strip away sexuality in very racial and gendered terms.
Despite the ways in which the reaction to Weiner implicates a troubling slice of U.S. history, many self-proclaimed liberal critics refuse to defend Weiner. Instead, they continually make the observation that his behavior was stupid, that he was asking to get caught. Not too long ago, people routinely made this same argument when gays and lesbians who came out of the closet experienced employment discrimination. Although Weiner's situation is not completely analogous to the struggle for LGBT rights, the reaction to his conduct sounds eerily familiar. Rather than focusing on his right to engage in consensual sexual conduct, many people are simply arguing that he should not have done so. But this does not explain why the country treats sexual expression as immoral.
The United States ranks among the world's largest markets for pornography and prostitution. Nevertheless, it retains relatively puritanical views about sex. Until recently, federal law shielded the supposedly strong and heroic members of the armed forces from the presumed threat of homosexuality. States have rushed to ban same-sex marriage. A significant portion of the country opposes teaching teenagers about birth control -- even though teenage pregnancy remains a serious problem.
Down in the Bible Belt, residents of Dallas, Texas often joke that the city has more churches and strip joints than any city in the nation. In Texas, however, state law bans the sale of "sex toys," unless they are necessary for medical purposes. Texas treats sex toys as obscenity -- unless you need them for medical purposes.
These are just a few examples of the hypocritical stance towards sexuality in the U.S. Weiner's resignation brings that hypocritical history to the surface.
Rather than treating Weiner's conduct as politically unwise -- but generally harmless -- Democrats rushed to kick him out of office. Predictably, the party caved when it could have resisted a silly scandal.
Ironically, the weak party has now kicked out one of its most passionate and fearless members. But this is typical of Democrats -- very typical and disappointing. Several other politicians on both sides of the aisle have suffered political scandal, but they kept fighting (remember Clinton). Today, the Democrats cannot fight at all. They have the spines of slugs.
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