New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner is surrounded by opposing candidate signs. (AP Photo/Richard Dew)
Maybe Anthony Weiner really has quit his online sexual dalliances, however he defines or counts them, but he clearly hasn’t quit his more maddening tendency toward truthiness: he slides out of questions, twists meanings, plays the victim and otherwise pretends we’re all still hung up over his personal behavior, when it’s actually his public dishonesty that’s grossing people out.
Only weeks ago, Weiner had been polling in first- or second-place in the New York City mayoral race—proof that voters had gotten over the penis-pics scandal and even his cascade of lies about it. We believed, as he misled us to, that his sext life was “behind” him, that it had ended when he resigned from Congress, on June 16, 2011.
Oh, some old tweets might surface, he said, but the implication was that they were pre-resignation leftovers. But then, of course, “Carlos Danger” walked on stage, and we learned that Weiner had continued sexting for more a year after he left Congress, with Sydney Leathers, 23, and at least two other women. He’s sunk to fourth place and to asking for a third chance.
But despite the occasional out-of-control heckler, Weiner has been putting on some magnificent performances lately—throwing smoke bombs over the telltale timeline, wearing down interrogators and starting to look, almost, believable.
In an interview with WNBC’s Andrew Siff on Friday, Weiner seemed to be in such authentic pain that even I, wary of the victim shtick, started to feel sorry for him. But he lost me as he refused, yet again, to admit the obvious:
Siff: You don’t think that when you say, “I’ve been as honest with you as I possibly could be” that you weren’t as honest as you could have been when didn’t disclose the timeline—
Weiner: You may have wanted, you may have wanted me to say on this specific date I wrote this specific embarrassing thing—
Siff: Not a specific date, just that it continued beyond your resignation—
Weiner: You may have wanted me to say that, OK? What I did say was this has been going on for some time, that it’s behind me, and I’m moving forward.
His performance was most passionate, and wily, at a City Island Civic Association forum last week. The group’s president, Bill Stanton, tried to pin Weiner down, saying he lied and New Yorkers forgave him, but “then you go ahead and do it again. So the question is, When do you take a mirror” and ask yourself, “Is there someone better qualified than you to do this job?”
Weiner insisted that, like all his detractors, Stanton was hopelessly fixated on his “embarrassing personal behavior”: “If you believe that because you found out something embarrassing about my personal life it’s a reason not to listen to my ideas about improving housing, improving lowering taxes on the middle class, that’s your right.”
“You’re exactly right—I violated the trust to my wife,” Weiner said, instantly pivoting to misquote his challenger. “That was wrong and people have every right in the world to say that disqualifies me. But I’m not going to quit based on that.”
He pivots again: “And I’m a little curious: Why would you want me to?” This brings an “Amen!” and a few applause from the crowd. At different points, he has the room cheering him on: it’s him against the political establishment, the media and voters like Stanton who would “deny these people the right to vote for me if they want to.” (Watch the video here.)
It doesn’t always work, this willful muddling of issues, questions, subjects and predicates. Last week in Staten Island, Peg Brunda told Weiner that if she’d done what he did in her twenty-one years as a public school teacher and principal, she’d have been out of a job, no matter how many years had gone by. “I don’t quite understand,” she said, “how you would feel you have the moral authority, as the head administrator in the city, to oversee employees when your standard of conduct is so much lower than the standard of conduct that’s expected of us.”
Weiner’s response: “Are you not voting for me?” Having established she’s not, he ignores her legitimate question and practically accuses her of wanting to block the democratic process itself: “You’ve made your decision. You wouldn’t deny [your neighbors] the right to make theirs, would you?” This time, no one applauded, and a Fox reporter chimed in, “You didn’t answer her question.”
(A few days later Weiner did answer Brunda’s question, for at least one of his employees, communications director Barbara Morgan. After a former campaign intern wrote a tell-all in the Daily News, Morgan called the intern a “slutbag,” a “cunt” and a “fucking twat.” Asked if he’d keep Morgan, who apologized for her “inappropriate language,” Weiner said, “You bet.”)
Even when not challenged, as in his own web ad, Weiner can’t help but push his narcissistic narrative with a sleight of hand. He likens his struggle to be heard over the din he created with how New Yorkers must “fight through tough things.” Worse, conflating New Yorkers’ resilience over 9/11 with his own, he says, “Quit isn’t the way we roll.”
“No, no, no, no, no—you are not doing this. You are not 9/11-ing your dick pics,” John Oliver scolded him on The Daily Show. “No, no. There is a line and you just went over that line.”
Weiner’s been crossing lines and then trying to erase them for years now, and not just on sexual matters, but on political issues, too, domestic and international.
A pattern began to emerge as far back as 1991. Running for City Council, shortly after the racially charged Crown Heights riots, Weiner anonymously distributed a flier that targeted his most progressive rival as an ally of the “DAVID DINKINS/JESSE JACKSON COALITION” and their “agenda.” Weiner “played the race card, and at a very sensitive time,” Steve Kornacki wrote at Salon two years ago. “Only after the ballots were counted [and he won by a slight margin] did he admit that he’d been behind the leaflets, claiming that ‘We didn’t want the source to be confused with the message.’ ” Oh, that’s why.
Asked about this recently, Weiner essentially said he had apologized to his rival but that he had nothing to apologize for. (See it below or on “Up w/ Steve Kornacki.”)
The medium then was leaflets, not tweets; the subject race, not sex, but in each case Weiner owned up only after his anonymity was busted, and only with explanations that chase their own tail.
Sure, most politicians obfuscate, some more than others, as we all do at times. But with Weiner, it seems to be a habit much tougher to break than whatever it is he does online.