The Gospel of Anthony Weiner
The Gospel of Anthony Weiner
In the early weeks of his re-entry campaign into public life, Anthony Weiner has asked for something as humble as it is chutzpadik: a second chance.
The concept of a second chance is deeply rooted in the religious notion of redemption; a belief that is ingrained in American politics, and encapsulated by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s oft-misquoted line: “I once thought that there were no second acts in American lives.”
But of course, the nation’s cultural lore is littered with such stories, and calls to mind another famous adage: “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” This is exactly the sweet spot in which Weiner finds himself, his candidacy an intrinsic challenge to voters’ morality, even if this consideration is entirely irrelevant to his qualifications for mayor.
But the ballot box is not the confession booth. The issue isn’t whether New Yorkers can forgive Weiner: It’s if they can vote for him. As the candidate has himself acknowledged in a New York Times Magazine profile, the only person who actually needs to forgive him is his wife. Yet every time Weiner opines about a “second chance,” he successfully confuses the issue, and deflects the question back to the voters: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” It’s a savvy rhetorical device that forces voters to examine their own failings, while sidestepping Weiner’s. Communities of color may be particularly sympathetic to this strategy, with 87 percent of blacks and 85 percent of Latinos identifying with one religion or another, according to the Pew Research Center. Although it’s by no means the only indication of how these communities will vote, the fact cannot have escaped Weiner, who kicked off his first official day of campaigning in Harlem, followed by a Sunday visit to a church in Queens where he prostrated himself before the congregation as an “imperfect messenger” who had merely lost his way.
The church pastor welcomed Weiner by comparing him to prophets like Moses, Peter and Ezekiel, who were also “unqualified” to lead. And perhaps it’s working, which may be part of why Mr. Weiner is the most popular Democrat among blacks, with 20 percent saying they would vote for him, compared with Bill Thompson’s 13 percent, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll. The scandal-scarred former congressman is also the second-most-popular candidate among Hispanic voters after Christine Quinn, with 14 percent saying they would choose him.
However, unlike the prophets of the Old and New Testament who were overwhelmed and resentful of the responsibility heaped on them by God, Weiner is the willing ringleader of his own circus: a false prophet claiming to speak for the middle class while living in a $14,000-amonth rental on Park Avenue South owned by a Clinton donor.
Weiner may want a second chance, but his conduct suggests that little has changed. He’s still arrogant, rude and overly impressed with his own intelligence. He’s also unblinkingly ready to accept $1.5 million in public funding for an ill-fated bid, despite his $4.5 million in the bank and ongoing fundraising efforts. The very fact of his campaign reflects the same self-indulgent lack of discipline he displayed on social media, and speaks directly to his ongoing need for attention and outside validation.
It would be a mistake to reduce the scope of Weiner’s narcissism to one “fateful tweet,” as he would put it. That phrasing seems to suggest an external event or “mistake” guided by forces beyond the man himself. To the contrary, the Twitter scandal that felled the famously volatile former congressman was not just a private failing somehow disconnected from the rest of his being. This fact was on full display at a candidate forum hosted by the New Kings Democrats where Weiner got into a shouting match when confronted to account for his candidacy. The canned apologies quickly fell away to reveal Weiner’s true character, as he hurled insults about his critics’ motives and then stormed off into a car where he jokingly suggested running over a reporter. As one attendee at the forum noted:
“Character is something that’s hard to find.” Some voters may give Weiner the second chance he so desires, but the qualities to justify that appeal continue to elude him. In the unlikely event that he wins the election, God help us all.
Alexis Grenell is a Democratic communications strategist based in New York. She handles nonprofit and political clients.