Although former Congressman Anthony Weiner mostly bedeviled me when I covered politics in New York City, I only feel sadness today at his political and personal demise. Any schadenfreude I felt after his first Twitter stumble in 2011, which led him to resign from Congress, has dissipated.
Partly that's a result of his repeated humiliation over time. No one deserves that -- even if he did set himself up by seeking such a high profile and insulting staff and reporters like me. The man's got an addiction, which I define as a willful self-destruction even as there are parts of one's life that are so worth showing up for. Like his vision for the middle class that he hoped to carry out as NYC mayor. Like his beautiful and extraordinary wife Huma Abedin, who filed for divorce on Friday even as Weiner was pleading guilty in the federal courthouse in Manhattan to sexting with an underage girl. Like the couple's son.
If kids don't give you a reason to be a better person, I don't know what does.
Weiner, however, even involved 4-year-old Jordan in his sext-capades. He took a suggestive image of himself for his 15-year-old sext partner as Jordan lay next to him in bed. I can only shake my head at how sad this is, how much this man in that moment was obliterating everything. Especially, but not exclusively, any image he could hold in his mind of himself as a good person.
To me, this is the nature and the bottom of addiction. Hatred of oneself creates a downward spiral, finally extinguishing decency and integrity.
In the opening lines of the documentary Weiner, for which filmmakers followed Anthony on the campaign trail for mayor in 2013, he admits to having done bad things but adds, "I've done good things, too."
I wonder where we will find the next generation of political leaders if we have to screen for such a panoply of character flaws. Narcissism, self-destructiveness, crossing the line into involving minors in one's obsession and damaging the public regard for a woman, Huma, who's a political force in her own right.
Are we, the public, supposed to overlook these flaws, as Weiner suggests, and concern ourselves with the good he might do in office? (I'm hard-pressed to find many accomplishments while he was in Washington.)
Who runs for political office in America today, at least on the highest levels, but for narcissists? Is there another motivation for public service, or are some politicians just better at hiding their self-regard? Perhaps self-regard doesn't have to be as toxic as Weiner's?
I'm sure I'm being too bleak about our political class. Weiner's felony guilty plea is depressing. He's smart, rose from humble beginnings, and can talk circles around his opposition. All, so it seems now, gone to waste.
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