Let's be very clear: Rep Anthony Weiner's bizarre sexual journey through cyberspace -- and subsequent lies to cover it up -- is irresponsible, reprehensible and deserving of all the shame, embarrassment and public humiliation he's now experiencing since his admission of guilt Monday afternoon. Most important, his sleazy behavior is profoundly hurtful to his wife, Huma Abedin, his bride of less than one year. I can't imagine a marriage so new surviving so many adulterous escapades (virtual or other), but that will be for the Weiner's to assess and decide. But the big question is, is what Weiner did unethical as it relates to his job as a Unites States Congressman?
I'm sure this is a point both parties will argue vehemently over the next many months as the 2012 election nears and Republicans wish to take Weiner down and as his fellow Democrats try to get away with a mere wrist slap. To the left, Weiner's been a fierce warrior, full of righteous rage and not afraid to bully his opponents. In fact, he's just the sort of Democrat the party needs. So now he wears a bullseye on his back as a result. But are the offenses Weiner committed illegal? Worthy of prosecution? Do they merit his resignation?
The right will argue that Rep. Chris Lee, the former Congressman from New York's 26th District, immediately resigned after a photo appeared of him bare-chested as he was trolling for chicks on Craigslist while married. His resignation opened the door for Democrats to win the historically Republican seat in a special election held last month. They'll also point to former Rep. Mark Foley (FL), who immediately resigned in September 2006 over the scandal involving his sexually suggestive emails and texts to underage teenage boys who had served as Congressional pages. They'll be demanding that Weiner and the Democrats live up to these standards.
But what they won't discuss is how David Vitter, the Louisiana Senator, still serves despite his call-girl scandal. Or how South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford served the remaining two years of his term following his admission of an affair with an Argentine woman and his misuse of state funds. Same for former Nevada Sen. John Ensign, who stayed in office until last month following the disclosure in November 2009 of an extramarital affair and possible abuses of power in an attempt to cover it up. And they won't talk of Newt Gingrich's cheating or political scandals.
What it boils down to is that each case is different than the next and has its own distinct characteristics. And each politician has to decide for himself whether or not his offenses are serious enough to merit resignation, and whether or not he can withstand the media scrutiny and public excoriation that may haunt him throughout the remainder of his term and during a re-election campaign.
To be sure, Foley deserved to go. His actions were not only perverse but illegal. He broke the law. But when a man cheats on his spouse, that should be between husband and wife, not Congress. While people like Weiner violate their marriages and abuse the trust they have with their wives, they've broken no laws. Their fates belong to their wives, families and to voters.
If what Weiner claims is true, there's been no actual physical sexual contact with any of the six women he's confessed to emailing, texting or calling during the past three years. While his randy acts are certainly despicable, will Weiner be the first politician to lose his job over a sex scandal that had no actual sex involved? Welcome to the age of anti-social media.