The Anthony Weiner sex scandal reveals why American politics is riddled with mediocrity. We live in a society so obsessed with uncovering the secret lives of public figures -- and holding them to absurdly unrealistic moral standards -- that only the naïvely optimistic, the mediocre, the hypocrite, the criminal or the totally clueless ever dare run for public office. They either don't know any better, have criminal intent or have everything to gain and little to lose. The smart ones with solid, stable careers and home lives hesitate to venture outside the relative safety of an anonymous life to distinguish themselves in any way. They fear humiliation at best -- and the utter destruction of their lives and careers at worse -- should they make an innocent misstep, or the media discover they had an impure thought or committed any kind of sexually adventurous act in their private lives.
Rarely in modern American politics do we find true leaders anymore who inspire and guide us with their wisdom. Among the current crop of career politicians -- those who have so far survived the harsh, invasive light of media scrutiny -- one is hard-pressed to find men and women of vision, personal courage and unwavering conviction. Instead you find hard-core professionals with public speaking coaches, image consultants, researchers and advisers to help them craft their positions on every issue. They have PR mavens to shape their public images; hairstylists to comb their hair and wardrobe consultants to select their clothes; and scores of other support staff that would make the massive posses of the most egocentric celebrity green with envy.
The freshness and promise of politicians like Barack Obama -- who roared into the White House on a massive wave of optimism -- quickly grow stale, like all the others. When Obama once spoke freely and warmly to the crowd, he now measures his words, dodges direct questions and testily pushes back on reporters who lob politically charged questions at him.
The media needs to take some responsibility for this. Reporters are the first to turn an innocent phrase uttered casually by a politician into an ugly controversy that leaves them twisting in the wind. If they misuse a word, they are portrayed as stupid. If they bump their heads or take a misstep getting off a plane, they are branded as clumsy. The sex lives of politicians, of course, are their biggest aphrodisiacs. If a politician should reveal human failings like a wandering libido, they will treat him like the most perverse criminal, and every minutia of his private life is bared to the public, regardless of the path of destruction they carve and collateral damage they cause among their families and friends. An accused sex deviant is actually given more deference in the media than a blindsided politician: A sex deviant's crimes are "alleged" until proven guilty. Dedicated civil servants quickly learn the art of hypocrisy to survive. And promising careers grind to a halt.
For Rep. Anthony Weiner, 20 years of dedicated and productive public service went up in smoke because he proved to be too human. Colleagues on all sides -- most probably hiding their own dark secrets -- shy away as if fearful of catching his disease. A non-repentant media picks over his bones and congratulates itself at the efficiency with which it hunts and kills its prey. Now it scans the horizon for its next victim.
Therefore, to the honest, intelligent and dedicated person who is thinking about running for office and building a better America, God bless you. And keep your pants on!
Follow Mario Almonte on Twitter: www.twitter.com/almonte