Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. Here’s this week’s!
A train wreck of a political scandal has erupted in the United States over these last few weeks, and despite its sordidness, it has given me reason to hope for our future once again.
In case you have not heard, a Democratic Congressman from New York named Anthony Weiner (I am not making that up) apparently sent lewd pictures of himself to strange young women on Twitter. He was discovered when instead of sending one as a private message, he sent it for all the world to see, and now everyone knows where he stands on the boxers vs. briefs question.
Originally he claimed his account had been hacked, and he self-righteously demanded that news organizations focus on something more important. As more and more pictures surfaced, though, he was eventually forced to resign in disgrace.
That’s right: he was forced to resign. Woo hoo!
For I still remember when another politician was caught in a rather uncompromising position involving a cigar, a blue dress, and the line “it depends on what the meaning of “is” is,” and everybody pretty much excused him.
That was back in my major feminist days during my postgraduate degrees, and I initially liked Clinton. But unlike the rest of the media, I wasn’t comfortable with saying, “It’s not about the sex; it’s about the lying.” That didn’t wash with me. I thought it mattered that he had sex with a 21-year-old intern. All the feminist literature I had read taught me that this was an abuse of power—and yet here were these same feminists saying we should excuse him, because he was a Democrat.
Now there’s one big difference between Weiner and Clinton, which was that Monica Lewinsky was a willing participant, and Weiner seems to have emailed or “tweeted” pictures of himself to women who didn’t ask for them. But nevertheless, in the early commentary of the Weiner scandal, I kept hearing variations on that now standard line: “the issue is not the sex; the issue is the lying.”
When people say that, it’s as if they’re also saying that we’re not allowed to judge anyone’s sexual behaviour as being somehow unseemly. So let me clearly state that sending nude—or even merely lewd—pictures of yourself to young women who are strangers, while you are married and a Congressman, is disgusting, immoral, and shows an amazing lack of judgment. Besides opening yourself up to blackmail, it’s just plain a mean thing to do to your wife, and an ultra-creepy thing to do to these women.
In the nineties, liberals in both Canada and the United States had to excuse Bill Clinton’s behaviour because they didn’t want to give leeway to Republicans. Republicans, in turn, to avoid being labelled as “prudes”, had to frame the issue as just the lying, and not the fact that the man was engaged in sexual activities while talking about national security on the phone.
But Clinton was a president. Weiner was just a creepy Congressman from New York. And so people didn’t circle the wagons. One by one, reluctantly at first, key members of both parties said, “he’s got to go.”
People were just plain grossed out, a reaction I cheered wholeheartedly, since I have teenage daughters—who are not on Twitter. And there is nothing funny or cute or quirky about sending nude pictures to young women. So perhaps we’ve finally given rest to that line, “it’s not about the sex; it’s about the lying.” Sometimes it is about the sex, and about how creepy and icky someone is being. I hope we as a society are free to start calling out people to behave responsibly again. If Weiner called us back to some basic standards, maybe he did serve a purpose, after all.
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