What lessons can we learn from Anthony Weiner's demise?
This is America. After the high and mighty have undergone a fall, we need an Oprah moment -- a lesson to be learned, an affirmation of the underlying moral law, along with a whiff of redemption.
Moreover, as a practical matter, men in elected office need to know in advance what they can and cannot do and still keep their high office. What are the current sexual rules?
A whole lot of people are now trying to figure that one out.
Consider the list of sex scandals that began with President Bill Clinton, continuing through Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, Barney Frank, Larry Craig, Jim McGreevey, Mark Foley, John Edwards, David Vitter, John Ensign, Eliot Spitzer, Mark Sanford, Arnold Schwarzenegger and now Anthony Weiner.
This list is no doubt partial and incomplete. The list is also depressingly bipatisan and unisexual.
Apparently you have to be married, or break the law, to have a sex scandal these days. However, neither of these is a sufficient condition for explaining which guy gets to keep his job.
Actually engaging in sex, as opposed to making revolting requests for it, does not appear to make it more or less likely a politician will keep his job. Dumping your wife, as opposed to merely cheating on her, doesn't appear to make anything worse. Not even lying or lawbreaking distinguishes the keepers from the losers -- the heroes and the goats.
I thought there might be regional variation in what constituents will put up with, but comparing Craig and Sanford to Weiner and Spitzer suggests any remaining regional variations in public morality is trumped by the new rule: If, as a married man, you must do it, don't do it in a major media capital of the world.
Unless you are gay.
If you are gay or from Louisiana, standards are lower.
If you are a Clinton, all bets are off, as Edwin Decker, a writer for the alternative San Diego CityBeat newspaper put it:
"Clinton's sex felonies are so many, so egregious, that I don't have the time or desire to add them up, what with the perjuries, the rape accusation, the fact that he used the state police as his personal sex-transit system, the persistent trapping of women in his office, the groping and the exposing of his tallywhacker like a coked-up monkey in a Vegas cathouse and, of course, how he deployed a team of operatives to viciously attack and destroy his accusers in the press."
There is nothing in this series of messes that can be called a moral rule; no general principle to be drawn. Our sexual ethics are a mess.
If you are going to lie, lie to your wife, not to your colleagues. If you are going to sin, make sure there are no photos. But if there are photos, please make sure you did not snap them yourself and then mistakenly email them to 45,000 followers.
For a guy, sinning in private is one thing; publicly humiliating yourself is another.
The only rule that I can find is not a moral rule but a political rule: Get the story out of the headlines, if you can. If you are embarrassing the party, you have to go. Politics is a team sport -- the manly thing to do is take one for the team.
What brought Anthony Weiner down appears to have been the rubbernecking combination of the icky and the ridiculous, the yuck factor meets the yuk-yuk factor.
(Maggie Gallagher is the founder of the National Organization for Marriage and has been a syndicated columnist for 15 years.)