I’ve done my best to remain blissfully unaware of what it is Rep. Anthony Weiner did to get himself in political trouble. But I did note that as soon as the controversy, um, revealed itself, wise voices pointed out a simple way for Weiner to avoid having to leave office as a result — simply, refuse to resign.
It seems like Weiner has taken that advice to heart. From TPMDC today:
Democrats in Washington couldn’t have made it clearer that they want Weiner gone fast. Within minutes of his nationally televised confession on Monday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called for an ethics investigation and was seconded immediately by DCCC chair Steve Israel (D-NY).… On the Senate side, Harry Reid more or less told Weiner to drop dead, acidly saying his advice to the lawmaker would be to “Call somebody else.” On the other side of the ledger, virtually no Democratic officials have moved to defend him.
But Weiner has stuck to his guns…
… “He’s not going anyplace,” Hank Sheinkopf, a veteran Democratic consultant told TPM. “He’ll do whatever he wants. Generally, New Yorkers tend not to respond to people in Washington. This is their city and they’ll decide — if his constituents want him gone he’ll leave. It’s that simple.”
To some extent, the reactions by Reid and Pelosi are simply the institutional Democrats’ instinctive timidity at work — if they’d been alive during the American Revolution, they’d have responded to Benjamin Franklin’s famous declaration of “We must, indeed, all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately” by thinking, “Well, as long as we get them to hang someone else first, maybe we’ll get through this okay.”
As the New York Times notes, this knee-jerk reflex to surrender is amplified by Weiner’s longstanding endorsement of the opposite approach to politics:
The scandal swirling around [Weiner] has revealed a truth about his personality and his place in the Capitol: He does not care much about those he serves with, and they do not care too much about him.
In a body full of ambitious and egotistical people, Mr. Weiner, 46, stands out for his brash and sometimes even impulsive style. His aggressiveness has served him well, as he has emerged as one of the most visible politicians in New York City and one of his party’s most camera-ready combatants. Liberal cable television seems to love his style, as do many of his constituents.
This contrast, in turn, is why many progressives are trying to build counter-pressure for Weiner to stay in office:
While most of cable news has focused on Weiner death watch, MSNBC host Cenk Uygur has devoted his time to defending Weiner….
Democrats turning on Weiner is “part and parcel of the correct impression that the Democratic party is weak and the Republican party is strong,” Uygur said.
If you can forgive me a brief Friday evening flight of fancy, I’d suggest to Reid and Pelosi that there’s a way for them to play both sides of this controversy successfully. I’ve argued for years (as Jane can verify) that Democrats have suffered from a poor division of labor — they don’t have designated bomb-throwers/”bad cops” to say rude (but true) things in the media, so that more moderate folks can play “good cop” and make the same points while seeming more agreeable.
If Weiner rejects the pressure to resign, Reid and Pelosi can justifiably turn to the world and say, “We tried, but we can’t force him to do what we want.” And from that moment, Weiner is a free man — free to speak impolite truths in whatever attention-getting manner and forum he chooses, enabling his less brave colleagues to accept media invitations to tut-tut his uncouth tone and choice of words… and then gently add, “But he does have a point about…”
Ahh, but who am I kidding? The Democratic leadership is as incapable of this sort of clever kabuki as they are of standing up publicly for progressive principles.