The Democrats’ Ridiculous Double Standard on Weiner and Clinton

They defended a president for his indiscretions but want Weiner run out of town for online misbehavior.

David Karp / AP Photo

Democrats who demand the resignation of Anthony Weiner but continue to treat Bill Clinton as an American hero are rank hypocrites—or confused and inconsistent on an epic scale.

If you maintain that the 42nd president defended the Constitution by waging a righteous, ultimately successful battle against partisan witch hunters during the impeachment crisis, on what rational basis can you conclude that Weiner must remove himself from Congress?

By every conceivable standard, the president’s behavior during the Monica mess involved more serious legal and ethical breaches than the recent misdeeds of Weinergate. Consider:

No one has yet specified violations of the law in Mad Anthony’s “tweeting heart” messages to transcontinental strangers. Clinton committed perjury in federal grand jury proceedings, surrendering his law license because of it. Moreover, Clinton’s legal background—he served as attorney general of Arkansas—should impose a higher, not lower, standard of behavior than that applied to Weiner, who is not a member of the bar. Weiner maintained his public lies about phone calls and Twitter accounts for a week; Clinton maintained his televised lies about the Monica Lewinsky lewdness for months.

Clinton incontestably used taxpayer-funded resources for his sexual adventures, engaging in workplace assignations with Ms. Lewinsky in an anteroom adjacent to the Oval Office while placing more than 50 calls to her, some of them international, using his presidential phone line. Weiner insists that his electronic indulgences never, or only rarely, made use of government equipment, as he relied on his personal BlackBerry and home computer.

Weiner’s odd fixation on his own private parts certainly constitutes a bizarre obsession, but there’s no indication that any of the women with whom he corresponded in cyberspace ever gazed in person upon the splendorous center of the congressman’s universe, let alone made physical contact with him of any kind. In the case of William Jefferson Clinton, Monica most certainly did more than gaze. The term “unforgivable” emerges with regularity in discussions of Weiner world, but would any wife deem his raunchy messages to women he never met more difficult to forgive than Clinton’s cigar-probing, stained-dress adventures with a flesh-and-blood 23-year-old?

Weiner’s most indignant Democratic critics say he should surrender his office because his appallingly bad judgment and unspeakably sleazy conduct violate the minimum standards of decency one should expect from a member of Congress. But why should a member of Congress be held to a higher standard than the president of the United States?

The only possible justification for defending Clinton clinging to his job while demanding Weiner’s prompt removal would involve an argument about the national welfare, suggesting that at a time of danger and upheaval—actually, 1999 looks positively Edenic from today’s perspective—America couldn’t afford a constitutional crisis. But a Clinton resignation, which many observers expected in the first stages of Monicagate, would have avoided any serious uncertainty, bringing about the orderly and immediate accession to power of the well-qualified Gore. A Weiner resignation, on the other hand, would leave his Brooklyn-Queens district unrepresented in Congress for weeks and probably months before New York state officials could schedule a costly special election.

When speaking about Weiner’s horrifying comportment, most observers circle back to an indefinable “ick factor” that makes his situation uniquely disgusting. This aspect of the scandal reflects the repellant and reptilian Weiner personality that successfully alienated members of Congress on both sides of the aisle long before the eruption of his Vesuvian scandal. But the fact that Weiner counts in most quarters as a powerfully obnoxious personality while Bill Clinton (or Barney Frank, or David Vitter, or even John Ensign for many months) came across as a fundamentally likable guy shouldn’t lead to irrationally different criteria for judging their misbehavior.

If Weiner ought to resign his office, then it’s simply impossible to suggest that Clinton deserved the admiration of a grateful nation for fighting so stubbornly to hold onto power. Yes, it makes sense to argue that both miscreants deserved to surrender their positions, or that both of them merit support in battling back against their critics. It’s even possible to suggest that Clinton’s scandal demanded his resignation, but Weiner’s less serious (and less criminal) meltdown does not.

But the nearly universal liberal position that Clinton—who, ironically, officiated at Weiner’s 2010 wedding—should never have been impeached but that Weiner must go for the good of the country? That awkward straddle makes no sense on any logical level.