The Real Problem with Weiner
The farcical tragedy of Anthony Weiner is more than a sex scandal or the story of an arrogant politician who was finally exposed.
Weiner is part of a flawed system that leads to the frequent reelection of career politicians who believe that government will solve every problem. He is also a careerist pol with zero experience in the private sector. Just like his mentor, Senator Chuck Schumer, he came out of college and went straight on the government payroll as an aide. He never knew anything but lusting after power and more power. Weiner was quoted as saying that he couldn't "imagine not being a congressman."
Yet how different is he from the political class of men and women, Republican and Democrat, who rule us today? Not very different. These are people who believe in the perpetual campaign and, by implication, a perpetually bigger government. It has grown into a Leviathan, a Leviathan that is enabled and expanded by people like Weiner.
I have had two confrontations with Weiner over the years. They were over welfare and warfare policies, the bedrocks of big government. And I can say that Weiner is the rule, not the exception, of American politics. I say that as one of the few constituents in his district who actually voted against him every time.
I confronted him once at a town hall here in Kew Gardens, much to the horror of his myriad fans. Many of these people apparently think we serve our politicians, not the reverse.
They regarded him as a quasi rock star. Before the meeting, there were middle-aged women anticipating his arrival as though Elvis was going to be in the building. He thrilled his fans at the town hall when he said, "I want to be politically correct." (He was sorry that he had inadvertently called a woman "a meter maid.") The crowd thought he should represent this district forever. And maybe, they thought, he should run for mayor while, of course, holding on to his congressional seat in case he lost his mayoral race. God forbid a politician should resign an office while seeking a higher one.
At the meeting, Weiner, trying to rally support for Social Security programs, announced that payroll taxes were "only" 7.65 percent. As a person who believes that social-insurance programs are flawed and should be made voluntary — and that these regressive payroll taxes hurt middle-income and low-income workers — I immediately objected.
"Tell the truth," I said. "The employer also pays 7.65 percent. So, in fact, these taxes are double what you are saying."
Weiner was startled. I believe he knew I was right. He was imperious, but not dumb. There was little he could say in response, because I happened to be right; I could prove that he was either dishonest or ill-informed (my guess is the former).
But Weiner supporters all around me were angry that I would say such a thing. In fact, when I left the meeting later on, I was informed by a doorman on the way out that my "comments and questions were impolite."
These were people who thought any serious questions about Weiner's big-government spending policies were out of order. Weiner's district, in Brooklyn and Queens, was chock full of these credulous folk. They still believe in him.
Even at the tearful end of this latest saga, a Marist poll revealed that the majority of those surveyed wanted Weiner to stay.
(This reminds of some neighbors of mine who voted for Alan Hevesi's reelection as New York State comptroller even though he was clearly under a cloud of ethical and legal problems in his last election. "He's such a good Democrat," one friend told me after Hevesi rolled up another big majority. Hevesi is now in jail after his second felony conviction. I believe there are plenty of people who would still vote for him. And I wouldn't bet against Weiner someday making a comeback!)
The true believers — those who believe in their party no matter what, those who would vote for Idi Amin just as long as he was "one of them" (a loyal party member who won a primary) — will go on in this kind of self-imposed mental slavery that it seems impossible to escape. This problem is aggravated by the power of incumbency.
Indeed, in most of Weiner's seven elections in this district the Republicans rarely mounted a serious challenge. Weiner could be arrogant because he, along with many others, never faced a serious challenge. That is true in hundreds of districts around our nation, a nation many Americans insist is a democratic example for the rest of the world.
That is why it is wrong for our government to ram its version of democracy down on the rest of the world, killing thousands of people in the process. This is an imperial system that Anthony Weiner, too busy running for reelection and appearing on cable-television shows, never seriously considered.
This is the issue I raised in my second confrontation with Weiner, which happened about a year ago on a Saturday morning on Ascan Avenue in Forest Hills.
"What are we doing to Afghanistan?" I asked him. "Why are we sending more troops and doing more bombing there? Isn't the whole concept of nation building flawed? Doesn't the history of the region remind us that trying to build a nation with Western values is a futile exercise?"
Finally, I asked why he didn't criticize his president for sending more troops to Afghanistan. I asked, "if the Republican McCain had been elected president, wouldn't your position have been different?"
Rep. Weiner didn't like it when I cited history. He told me I was being "didactic." He said "we have to maintain a presence in Afghanistan." He said we couldn't, as I suggested, just use special forces to hunt down terrorists and just give up this idea of remaking countries.
Again, I pressed for why he wasn't critical of the Obama administration, pointing out that it was a Democrat, Allard Lowenstein, who was one of the pioneers in criticizing the Vietnam War under a Democratic administration. Again, Weiner told me that I was "too interested in history."
Of course, these career pols aren't interested in history. They are incapable of studying an issue, in devoting years to studying it like Senator J. William Fulbright did. He also wrote good books on foreign policy and become one of the great critics of our disastrous war in Vietnam.
But Weiner will leave us no serious books. His heritage will be cable-television appearances, Internet chats, and voting for every spending increase imaginable.
No, the Weiners, the career pols, have no substance. They come and go. But they stick around for a long time before they mercifully leave us. And you can find them on Twitter, because they think that might help them retain or gain more power. They are people, Mencken warned us, who are in it for the job. So they are interested in the next election and the election after that and after that.
They are Republicans and Democrats who are now plotting how to get your vote in the 2012. The election will basically be about their needs, and not about what it should be.
It should be about the outrageous level of taxes that you and your children and grandchildren will pay for a warfare/welfare state that blunders in endless foreign occupations. It should be about why we are losing more and more of our liberties, which reminds me of Tocqueville ("I would, I think, have loved liberty in any age, but I feel inclined to worship it in the age in which we actually live").
And judging by the success of Weiner, the vast majority of career pols — with their big-spending ideas — will probably get reelected by typical Americans. Many of the people in my district still think Weiner should be our Congressman. As Shakespeare has Cassius say in Julius Caesar,
The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars,
But in ourselves; that we are underlings.
People can fight a tyranny imposed by an outside force. People cannot fight a tyranny that we impose on ourselves.