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The Sexting Congressman Is Not What He Seems: It’s Happening Again

June 9, 2011

Much to my delight, it looks like news about politicians being naughty on the internet is turning out to be a quarterly occurrence. In what’s pretty much the best thing to happen at the intersection of the internet and politics since former Congressman Christopher “Craigslist” Lee’s February escapades, Congressman Anthony “Yes That’s Really My Last Name, How Simply Wonderful That I Should End Up In A Predicament Like This” Weiner has become the latest Representative Gone Wild (or, in keeping with the “Arrested Development”-themed title of my Christopher Lee post, “Representative With Low Self-Esteem”). You see, after a picture of his bulge briefly appeared on his Twitter account and was re-circulated by self-described Drudge-bitch Andrew Breitbart, Weiner claimed that his Twitter had been hacked, but wouldn’t say for certain if he knew whose package it was or whether or not he knew the woman it had been delivered to (I’m sorry, I couldn’t help myself. It practically writes itself).

Earlier this week, though, Weiner held a press conference to admit to tweeting the aforementioned picture and also to fess up about sexting, like, tons of chicks.  The last time we were in a similar situation (no, not that Situation), I argued that the shirtless pictures of Lee took his soporific small talk out of the realm of banal flirtation and into the realm of the sex scandal, hence his resignation. This situation (again, not that Situation) is different entirely. As the transcripts of Weiner’s sexts show (which you can find a link to here, in .pdf form even, so you can put it on your Kindle and, um, take it with you), this guy’s hardly banal—except for maybe that place on page 2 of the transcript where he makes an observation about the functionality of certain sexual positions whilst watching television about a decade later than the Bloodhound Gang. But, to be fair, he more than makes up for it starting on page 5.

So pictures and verbally explicit texting? Weiner’s screwed, right? I’m gonna give a second to let what I did there sink in, before I say “no, not really.” Or at least he doesn’t think so. While it’s still too early in Weinergate to tell for sure (I didn’t come up with that name although I wish to god that I had), as of press time Weiner has no plans of resigning despite mounting pressure to do so. In fact, he tries to lay a lot of rhetorical groundwork in his press conference to save at least his present term, if not his erstwhile position as contender for New York mayor. How? By arguing that the personal is, in fact, not political. And by doing it in a somewhat unexpected way.

Numerous times throughout his press conference, Weiner refers to his actions as a “destructive thing to do,” but always follows it up with a remark about the effects this may have on his marriage. He also repeatedly refers to the event as a “personal failing,” one that has nothing to do with his “record of getting bills passed or filling potholes or filling community service.”

Throughout the press conference, Weiner attempts to not only frame his actions as a personal matter (understandable and expected), but also to distance his political identity from his private identity (more interesting). His aforementioned political record isn’t characterized as an accomplishment by the same flawed man, it’s presented instead as something that has nothing to do with this scandal. He even says at one point that his situation (no, not that Situation), is one “that didn’t have to do with [his] government service per se.”

Weiner’s situation (okay, one more) is unique in that, unlike most of the politicians we’ve seen in similar trouble, he claims to have no intention of resigning. Obviously, keeping his job necessitates distancing his behavior from his ability to DO his job. But while we might expect the argument to attempt to shift the focus from the personal to the professional, Weiner’s argument goes further, more along the lines of “now you know that I’m a jerk personally, but professionally I’m still the same ol’ Tony.”

In this press conference, Weiner claims two separate identities for himself—a personal one as a contrite louse but a louse nonetheless, and a professional one as a competent politician. Each of these identities has its own consequences, but their sets of consequences can remain exclusive of each other. So, even if we see Weiner step down later this week (which at this point he very well may), he’s still provided us with an interesting look into how two separate identities can be simultaneously used rhetorically.

If you want to know more:

  • You can read the transcript of Weiner’s press conference here.
  • In Identity’s Strategy: Rhetorical Selves in Conversion, Dana Anderson looks at how identity is used rhetorically. In a chapter on David Brock, Anderson argues that simply presenting yourself as a particular kind of person can be an argument that your actions follow logically from it. So, here we see Weiner presenting himself simultaneously as a bad husband (in which case his actions make sense; they’re just the sort of thing that kind of person would do) and a capable politician (ditto; good politicians fix roads and do community service). What’s interesting here is the way he claims both identities at once, yet still demands they be kept distinct.
  • A bit off my turf with this idea, but I suppose there’s also lots of fun implications going on here for theories about public debate and the distinction between the private and the public à la Jürgen Habermas etc., and a different post might have dealt with those issues, but that’s really not my theoretical forte. Discuss amongst yourselves?
  • Hilary sent me a link to this post from “Inside Higher Ed,” which, as she pointed out, contains the line “to be sure, the factors eliciting admiration, fear, anger, etc., vary from culture to culture, and so does their expression. The disgraced Samurai of the 16th century would commit seppuku; the disgraced American politician of the 21st calls a press conference.” I’m not sure which is harder to watch, but I’m guessing you’d have about the same odds for re-election after either.
  • In keeping with my trend of referencing my favorite TV shows in the titles of my posts every time some Congressmen inadvertently gets his bod on the internet, the title of this post is, indeed, a “Twin Peaks” reference. For those of you who have seen the show, note that at one point in the transcript Weiner stresses that he was sober the entire time. This makes my fingers itch to type “without chemicals, he points.” See what I did there?
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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Bill Marcellino permalink
    June 9, 2011 1:06 pm

    I enjoyed reading this. I didn’t click on them, but I am to assume the “situation” comments are a JS reference?

    • Matt Zebrowski permalink*
      June 10, 2011 12:02 am

      Sorry Charlie, I don’t just include the links for the pretty purple text.

  2. June 4, 2012 12:21 am

    The behavior was just wrong given the ofifce he holds. He not only needed to answer to his family but also to those who elected him which he seems to have done.. This kind of activity is by no means uncommon in the world but it’s usually conducted by immature youth who have not learned to control themselves. Certainly not what you would expect from an elected representative or someone his age. I think there is a problem there that he needs to deal with and I understand that’s what he say’s he’s going to do. Give him a chance he’s all too human.

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