For all the collective parsing of New York City mayoral hopeful Anthony Weiner’s cautious re-entry into politics…first, word/trial balloon that he might pursue public advocate, then the Times Magazine profile heard ’round the world, and finally, the declaration of his candidacy and a not-entirely-unexpected surge in the polls (except among fellow Jews, who judge him even more unfavorably now)…few of us saw Eliot Spitzer, New York’s disgraced former governor, in the shadows also waiting to pounce. And with his eleventh hour entry into the New York City Comptroller race, Spitzer pounced. The comparisons are as inevitable as they are silly.
There are few American rituals more demeaning to all the parties involved than the public apology: an uncomfortably uttered, platitudinal bee dance that invites listeners to fling scorn and sanctimony at a public figure (coupled with an often insincere frisson of pity for their poor spouses and families) and then, the trial done, we forget the transgression until someone else commits it. Sometimes, the disgraced person returns and sometimes he even wins.
The new American ritual is the re-castigation. HERE WE HO AGAIN! shouted the Post this morning. Ari Fleischer, who served as press secretary for President George W. Bush in those halcyon days when America was sold and delivered the Iraq War, tweeted thusly:
If Weiner and/or Spitzer win their races, NYC will be the laughing stock of the USA. And I'm a New Yorker.
— Ari Fleischer (@AriFleischer) July 8, 2013
It seems the double feature of politicians who are New Yorkers, Jewish, and shamed, may be too much for us to bear. Even as the city faces a potentially crippling budgetary shortfall in the coming year amid skyrocketing pensions–which, assuming a lot happens, both Weiner and Spitzer would have to battle to keep essential services from being slashed–the hashtags WeinerSpitzer and SpitzerWeiner yielded us reprieve from more serious things.
On the matter of SpitzerWeiner, Ben Smith cleared the air.
But Spitzer has basically nothing in common with Weiner, aside from their low body fat, and shared (and lightly observed) Jewish faith. Weiner is a talented politician who left Congress with no major legislative accomplishments and everything to prove. Spitzer was a major force in American public life for eight years despite having no particular talent for politics. Weiner’s online romances brought him down because they were weird. Spitzer’s ordinary sin — any number of politicians have survived prostitution scandals — ended his tenure as governor because his governorship was already going terribly.
The question about Weiner is whether, as Mayor, he will be able to turn his talent for communications into leadership, something he’s never done — but the sort of thing that can happen when you’re mayor, as it did to Ed Koch.
The question for Spitzer is whose head he will take off first.
Naturally, we want our leaders to be paragons of decency, especially if they lean heavily on those values-virtues tropes in their campaigns. But the sideshow detracts from the real question: Are they capable? On those fronts, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the personal flaws of both Spitzer and Weiner manifested themselves in professional shortcomings.
In the immediate aftermath of the Spitzer announcement, amid the replacement level barbs, a few of the mayoral candidates tweeted their support for Spitzer’s opponent candidate Scott Stringer, a fellow Jew, who is capable and well-liked on the local level. One of the few we didn’t hear from on the matter was Weiner.