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06.15.11

Obama’s Weinergate Misstep

President Obama’s call for Anthony Weiner to resign may have been unavoidable, but it kept what has to be history’s least sexually satisfying sex scandal in the headlines for another day—and it won’t push the congressman out the door. After all, he’s got nothing to gain by going, says Eric Alterman.

“I can tell you that if it was me, I would resign,’’ President Obama told Today’s Ann Curry—thereby ensuring that we would spend at least another day discussing Anthony Weiner’s not-so-private parts and the implications thereof.

This may have been unavoidable. Ducking the question would have looked like a kind of endorsement of Weiner’s weird behavior, so instead Obama made sure that his agenda would be buried beneath, um, Weiner’s you-know-what for one more day.

It was a rare misstep in a scandal that, for all its nuttiness, has everyone playing their proper role as if scripted for reality TV. Given that we’ve never had a congressional sexting scandal before, the entire cast of characters should be complimented for doing a bang-up job.

True, it was Weiner himself who ensured it would become a major scandal by deciding, for reasons even he cannot explain, to go on cable news and lie about it. (It’s not the crime, goes the saying, it’s the coverup.)

That was the “go” signal. It gave the media permission to treat this like a genuinely significant story, exploded as if Weiner were admitting not merely to sending silly photos of himself to (youngish) adult women, but to kidnapping infants and feasting on flesh. From June 6 to 12, the saga accounted for 17 percent of the news hole, according to Project for Excellence in Journalism, which notes that Weiner’s is the fourth-most covered political scandal—behind Rod Blagojevich, Eliot Spitzer, and Larry Craig—since tracking began in 2007. This is impressive, when you think about it. Not only is Weiner just a congressman, and not a terribly important or influential one at that, but he is participating in what has to be the least sexually satisfying sex scandal in all human history.

Look, people, nobody here should be under any illusion that it matters what they say, at least to Anthony Weiner. Ditto the allegedly all-so-serious intervention by Obama.

Next came all the tsk-tsking Democrats. Nancy Pelosi, The New York Times accurately reports, reminded people she was still around by calling on Weiner to get lost, even though he had already tried to take the “rehab” train to rehabilitation. (Rehab is to wayward Jewish liberals what finding God is to stray-cat conservative Christians like George W. Bush and Newt Gingrich.)

Pelosi followed on harsh calls for Weiner’s resignation from other Democratic leaders, such as Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Shultz and former Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. There’s no doubt that these Democrats would prefer to see, um, the back of Weiner. He is seen as a publicity hog—like his mentor, Chuck Schumer—by his colleagues, and was famous for mistreating his staff.

On Monday the current majority leader, Virginia Republican Eric Cantor chimed in, saying, “I’m hoping that they will begin to move, if he does not resign, toward things like perhaps stripping of his committees and others. I mean, I don’t think that we have time for this.”

Actually, Cantor has plenty of time for “this”—that is, reminding people that Democrats are basically perverts. It’s not as if Weiner is taking up any time from congressional business, except maybe hogging the mirrors in the locker room of the House gym. And while Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) did lose his Ways and Means committee assignment in June 2006, he at least was indicted on bribery and corruption charges—and is now serving a 13 year sentence—whereas nobody can even think of any laws Weiner might have broken.

Such proceedings, however, are the last thing Democrats want, because they will merely keep this tawdry matter on the front pages—and the cable dockets. This explains again why John Boehner decided to weigh in a day later, and it’s not because Weiner tried to insist that Boehner give up his attempt to pretend his name was not pronounced “Boner.”

Politico, looking for every imaginable angle, did a national poll about whether Weiner should resign, apparently forgetting that congressmen are responsible to their districts, not to the entire country. (Most Americans probably think most congressmen should resign.) Again, true to form, even when given a gift horse like Weiner’s member, there will be some conservatives who insist on going not merely beyond the bounds of propriety, such as it is, but also logic and common sense. Neocon publicist Eliana Benador, who has worked for Richard Perle, James Woolsey, and Frank Gaffney, among others, speculated on The Washington Times website Weiner might have converted to Islam when he married Huma Abedin in order to further his “socialist political agenda.” No, really. (The Times took it down after people made fun of it but you can still see it here.

But look, people, nobody here should be under any illusion that it matters what they say, at least to Anthony Weiner. Unless he gets a better offer, Weiner’s a congressman with majority support in his district who will likely continue to get re-elected unless his colleagues take his district away. Now that he is “on leave,” he’s got nothing to gain by going, particularly with a pregnant wife and not many other immediate job prospects on the way. Ditto the allegedly all-so-serious interventions by Obama and the Democratic leadership. (No intelligent person can take the Republicans’ advice to Weiner seriously.)

Sure, it’d be nice if Weiner would go quietly, but since when did Anthony Weiner do anything quietly? Until everybody tires of it, therefore, we can expect this Kabuki drama to continue until the next one starts up again. After all, summer’s almost here; anybody see any sharks?