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Lincoln Mitchell Headshot

Anthony Weiner Is a Caricature of a Politician

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Anthony Weiner's mayoral bid has now come full circle from redemption story to presumptive front-runner status to that grey area between absurd and pathetic. Weiner may or may not drop out of the race in the weeks before the Democratic primary, but his chances of being his party's nominee and ultimately mayor are declining every hour since the latest, and frankly, unsurprising, revelations about his online conduct.

Weiner is obviously sui generis in his combination of ambition, modest accomplishment, progressive voting views and the peculiarities of the scandal that has defined his political career. Weiner is, however, also something of a caricature of a contemporary politician. The self-absorption, media-centricity and naked ambition which has characterized Weiner's career, downfall, redemption and most likely, second downfall, is a neat summation of what Americans, across the political spectrum, hate about politics and politicians.

During the late Bush and early Obama years, Weiner earned a reputation as an outspoken progressive member of the House of Representatives. For the most part, this was appropriate. His attacks on the Republican Party and defenses of President Obama were strong, accurate and occasionally entertaining. Progressives should recognize him for that. The sentiments Weiner expressed at those times were, by all accounts sincere, but it was still hard to escape the notion that with Congressman Weiner it was always primarily about the congressman. This is true of many elected officials, but Weiner was more extreme in this regard. His conduct over the last few months has only made this more evident.

Weiner's mayoral campaign was never about anything but Weiner himself. It is not entirely fair to criticize Weiner for this, because he is not unique in this respect. The personal motivations, whether redemption, boredom or the need to get back in the spotlight are stronger and more obvious for Weiner, but they are not unique among politicians. This, however, is why the language used by Weiner is so absurd, and therefore annoying. In a recent press conference, Weiner claimed, "This (candidacy) is about the city and about the aspirations of people to make things better." Does anybody believe Weiner is running because he has a vision for New York, has well-thought-out solutions to the many challenges facing the city or because he is uniquely positioned to serve the city? Weiner's efforts to conceal his own personal goals and narrative behind a stated concern for larger and more noble purposes is hardly unusual. Politicians almost always claim the race is not about them and their goals when it very clearly is. Weiner is, in this respect, just like other politicians only more so.

Huma Abedin, Weiner's wife, has written that she has given her husband "a second chance" and urged New Yorkers to do the same. When Abedin says we should give Weiner a second chance, she does not mean we should forgive him, but that we should vote for him. I wish Weiner well and in some abstract way hope that he works out these personal problems and that he and his wife are both able to find happiness, but I feel that way about most people. If this is what Abedin means by giving her husband a second chance, most New Yorkers would probably not have much of a problem with that. However, what Abedin really means is that we should vote for Weiner because it will help him, and them, achieve their next goal and slake, at least for now, their ambition.

Weiner entered this race knowing there would be more revelations about his online conduct while simultaneously arguing that since he has reconciled with is wife, we the voters should forgive him too. The initial coverage of Weiner reflected this angle which, along with his name recognition, contributed to his impressive poll numbers. This was a mischaracterization of why Weiner's conduct is so troubling. This scandal was never primarily concerning Weiner's personal life and relationship with his wife. The real issues in the scandal are Weiner's serial dishonesty, unwillingness to take responsibility for his actions and extraordinary self-absorption. Again these are characteristics that are not exactly in short supply among politicians, but more extreme in the case of Weiner.

For Weiner, becoming mayor is also part of his quest for redemption. If, for some strange reason, the people of New York eschew other progressive candidates in favor of one who cannot control his Twitter, Weiner will feel redeemed for the mistakes he has made. Equally significantly, any damage he has done to his career will be erased. Any voter can see this, but Weiner, of course, cannot say this, so he relies upon the implausible notion that he is compelled to help New Yorkers, something he has done surprisingly little of in his relatively high profile career to justify his continuing campaign.