Anthony Weiner will always be a man of 140 characters.
The lanky, scandal-scarred former Congressman and purveyor of the now colloquial sext, has lived and died by the tweet. Naturally an extrovert, and a political firebrand whose appearance in rooms during his mayoral campaign in the summer of 2013 sparked endless pyrotechnic controversies, Weiner is again engaging in public dialogue on the platform that brought an abrupt end to his congressional term in 2011.
After demonstrating a sustained and manic proclivity for obfuscating the truth, Weiner is opening up a discourse on social media, the likes of which oscillate between a curt call-and-response version of Meet the Press and minor mimicry of Cory Booker’s famously ubiquitous Twitter interaction.
Weiner remains seemingly tentative to address certain questions. A deft manipulator of political rhetoric, he can still dodge like the good old days, deflecting heavier policy questions with half-cocked (pun not intended) attempts at humor.
He just doesn’t have as much to lie about anymore.
On July 23, the day Weiner faced the music and owned up to sending pictures of his genitals to women half his age, I asked him how he came up with the name “Carlos Danger,” the now infamous online moniker he used to mask his illicit activities.
As he was rushed out of a raucous, overfilled policy forum which followed his emergency press conference, Weiner looked me dead in the eyes and plainly stated, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
At the time, it was adding insult to injury, an ill-fated attempt to reverse the damage that had been done to his political aspirations and family life. Weiner was under a microscope and the entirety of the national press corps collectively said it wouldn’t be fooled again.
Since then, I haven’t discussed this quick exchange with Weiner. I don’t know how he would rationalize the story now. Perhaps he didn’t hear the question over the din of his campaign team trying to rush him to the security of a parked car outside, or over the whirring of the cogs in his head.
Perhaps he thought I didn’t know what I was talking about or that I hadn’t been at his press conference seated next to former TPM reporter Hunter Walker, who broke the story of Weiner’s press secretary’s foul mouth.
But I suspect he was just lying.
Natural political ability and penchant for corny dad humor aside, Anthony Weiner has a true talent for lying. Which is why I am all the more surprised that he is willing to engage in public conversations with Twitter users like me.
This past Sunday, Weiner wrote a column for the New York Daily News about Bill de Blasio’s proposed universal pre-K plan, one which has drawn the ire of Albany legislators for its proposal of a tax increase for New York residents.
The piece was well-articulated and essentially concluded that New York City’s business is New York City’s business and that the overreach of Governor Cuomo’s administration into this issue specifically is unwarranted and unwanted.
I was curious to hear from Weiner how he thought his prospective administration would have maintained a functional relationship with Albany, a question which prompted an extensive twitter conversation about de Blasio’s campaign rhetoric and his early gambles to follow up on previous promises.
It was an interesting exchange played out in as public a manner as possible, with periods purposely placed before my Twitter name, which let the world witness the tweets in real time (this is a feature of Twitter—it hides conversations that begin with one’s username). It felt like a welcome change of pace from someone who notoriously has had an adverse relationship with the press, particularly given the fact that I have frequently labeled him as a prodigious prevaricator.
I get that there’s a lot less on the line now. Facing questions during an imploding nationally scrutinized mayoral campaign in the most important city in the nation is a far cry from typing out calculated responses on a quiet snow-capped Sunday morning.
But this level of political engagement is somewhat unprecedented even in an era where every aspiring politician is equipped with a Twitter account. It is the exception, not the rule, when reporters can have unfiltered, direct access to politicians, or in this case former (most likely?) politicians.
Bill de Blasio, for instance, hardly interacts with anyone on Twitter—if at all—and this was true throughout the tumultuous campaign summer.
Unlatching the floodgates for public questioning on social media is basically opening Pandora’s Box, inviting a dearth of intellectual insight and mountainous heaps of crude humor in.
For every reporter’s insightful comments for Anthony Weiner there’s at least one tweet that asks for more of the photos that undid his campaign. It’d be impractical and unproductive for many politicians to spend a good majority of time responding to tweets—or SnapChats—from reporters. But when it happens, there is a beautiful breakdown in the systemic bureaucracy that often dictates the relationship between political reporters and their soapbox subjects.
Anthony Weiner gave me hope that conversations like these, and hopefully ones with people actually in office, can happen more often—despite the fact that he gracefully slithered out of the exchange when the going got rough.
I asked him directly if he thought that he could do a better job in City Hall than the man who defeated him. Weiner chose to dodge once again, opting to use his 140 characters to say: “I’ll tell you this, Russia is barely the 6th best team right now. Stunned they are playing tomorrow.”
And just like that it was the summer of 2013 again.
Weiner wasn’t lying but he was also not responding. He might argue that he is a private citizen now with no responsibility to respond to a humble reporter’s percussively repetitious line of questioning, but then why take the pains to make the entire conversation visible to the media and anyone with a Twitter account? Granted, had he said some semi-salacious thing about de Blasio’s newly-minted mayoral term, that line of dialogue would be the only subject of this article.
But if we’re going to be transparent, I’d like to see how far we can go. Consider this an open invitation for continued dialogue. And if there’s one thing I know about Anthony Weiner, it’s that he certainly likes to hear his own voice.