The next shiny object
by Judith Miller
Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda's de facto No. 2 after Osama bin Laden's long-overdue demise, doesn't care about Anthony Weiner's wiener. He doesn't ask whether the seven-term New York Democrat wears boxers or briefs, or whether his striking wife of Arab descent will stay with him because she is pregnant, or because she has seen too many episodes of "The Good Wife." Zawahiri just wants Huma Abedin, her randy husband, his constituents, and as many of us as possible dead.
He said as much in a new videotape vowing revenge against Americans for bin Laden's killing. But last week's warning got almost no attention from the Weiner-obsessed media.
Also overtaken by Weiner was Iran's announcement that it was moving its uranium enrichment plant into a mountain bunker and tripling its production of highly enriched uranium by using more advanced centrifuges. Analyzing IAEA data, Gregory Jones, of the Rand Corporation, warned that if Iran's centrifuges continued operating at current capacity, Tehran could have 90 percent of the 20 kilograms of material needed to make a nuclear bomb by the summer's end.
Most newspapers and networks were also too busy covering Weinergate to follow up on a new report by Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee concluding that nearly $19 billion in development aid to Afghanistan over the past decade had generated waste and corruption and reaped "little success."
Maybe that's why so many of us have been fixated on Anthony Weiner. Unlike the complex national security challenges we face — never mind our economic morass and complex debates about how to jump-start the economy while controlling a soaring, $14 trillion debt — Weinergate is simple.
Here's a sex scandal — or actually, a sizzling, sexless sexting scandal that all of us can understand. We can all have strong opinions about whether Wiener should resign or be expelled. The nation can finally have the national conversation we crave about something other than baseball.
Democrats and most members of the media immediately piled on. Weiner must go, most agreed. Even former Rep. Mark Foley, the Florida Republican who resigned in 2006 after male interns accused him of sexual harassment, surfaced on Fox News' Sean Hannity show after a five-year silence to urge Weiner to step down.
Weiner is no Bill Clinton. He apparently did not have sex with any of the women he sexted. He preferred virtual sex, or cybersex, to the real thing. Now that is weird. Clinton, of course, was impeached, but survived. But perhaps even the famously seductive former president would not have recovered politically had there been pictures of his penis and his X-rated emails to Monica Lewinsky floating around the Internet.
What, really, did Weiner do? He apparently didn't break any laws — unless it turns out to be true that he sexted a minor. He didn't harm anyone except his wife. He's creepy more than crooked. Unlike the charges against a leading French politician in New York, he didn't force a hotel maid to have sex with him. Nor did he father a child out of wedlock with the family housekeeper.
Unlike Rep. Chris Lee, a married Republican from New York who strongly promoted family values and resigned after sending shirtless pictures of himself to at least one woman, Weiner didn't use congressional resources to send out his prurient emails and porn photos. Nor did he make a video extolling the virtue of sexual abstinence, as did Mark Souder, another married Republican congressman, before resigning last year to avoid an ethics inquiry into his acknowledged affair with a female staffer. Unlike fellow Democrat New York Rep. Eric Massa, who resigned to avoid an ethics investigation into his alleged groping of a young male staffer, Weiner apparently touched no one but himself.
Political analyst Kirsten Powers wrote that it wasn't the disgusting sexting that led her to demand Weiner's resignation, but the cover-up. She called Weiner, a friend whom she had briefly dated a decade ago, a "misogynist" and accused him of "sociopathic lying."
She has a point. While most people lie about cheating, philanderers usually don't blame evidence of their infidelity on a "vast right-wing conspiracy." And while initial polls show that a narrow majority of his constituents have rallied to his side, his legislative record is not one of distinction. According to GovTrack.us, none of the 190 bills that Weiner solely sponsored since 1999 has been enacted; 180 of them never even made it out of committee, a record that reflects his reputation on the Hill for arrogance and his unpopularity even prior to this scandal.
Ultimately, I think Weinergate should be between Mr. Weiner and his wife, if she chooses to keep him, and between him and his constituents. They should decide his fate.
But maybe it's the very fact that what Weiner did is not that big a deal that makes it such a big deal. It's a weird summer distraction from real issues. Sooner or later the story will move on — probably when he is forced from office — and we'll be left to confront the very real problems facing our country.