It's a sad day for comedians everywhere. After three weeks of his name being the punchline for everyone from late-night comedians to bloggers and twitterers, Anthony Weiner resigned from the House of Representatives Thursday at one of the most bizarre press conferences ever.
Giving his short, four-minute resignation speech at the same senior center in New York where he began his career, Weiner seemed to be prepared for the media circus that gave new meaning to the phrase “media circus”. He read through his prepared statement, firmly and without hesitation, as some idiot from Howard Stern's show kept yelling stupid things like “Are you more than seven inches”, the old people in attendance yelled their support, and other hecklers just made a lot of noise.
As the flashbulbs flickered, Weiner made his final exit without answering questions. Of course, it would have been quite embarrassing to have to answer questions about his penis size. In hindsight, maybe it would have been better for Weiner if he had released a prepared statement instead of resigning in front of a bunch journalists, weird old people, Howard Stern employees, and the television and Internet audience.
Weiner, however, may have wanted it this way. His speech in some ways sounded more like a campaign speech than a “politician leaving in disgrace” speech. This may, in fact, not have been his final exit, but just a brief glitch in a long career in politics. “I got into politics to help give voice to the many who simply did not have one,” Weiner said. “Now I'll be looking for other ways to contribute my talents.”
What he plans to do with his talents remains to be seen, but Weiner clearly is not done with politics. He has no law degree, and politics is all he knows, so look for an Eliot Spitzer-like rise from the ashes. Or he could take up that job offer from Hustler's Larry Flynt, who knows a good hire when he sees one. Weiner has other options, such as marketing his own action figure, for example. His name alone will sell products, and just add the words “anatomically correct” and watch the money pour in.
As political scandals go, this one has got to be the weirdest. It was, after all, a sex scandal without the sex, which is relatively a new thing. The only other one that comes to mind is Republican Congressman Chris Lee who sent shirtless photos to women he met on Craigslist. In that case, however, Lee immediately resigned, causing only a minor media spectacle.
Weiner decided to cover up his indiscretions. And then lie about them. And then lie about them some more. This may have worked in the 90s, but these days, when you post pictures of your crotch on the Internet, there will be a record of it.
In 1987, Gary Hart was photographed on a yacht called Monkey Business with Donna Rice sitting on his lap. It put an end to Hart's presidential campaign, but the photo didn't become public until after Hart had withdrawn from the race. The fact that Hart was wearing pants didn't hurt. But in Weiner's case, the pictures don't illustrate the story, the pictures are the story.
Most political scandals involve sex with prostitutes, or at least some sort of illicit affair. Not online, but in person. In these cases, there are no photos of the intimate details, and therefore nothing to share on Facebook, Twitter and all the other Web sites out there.
Maybe Weiner didn't even have to quit. Sure, he was getting pressure from his own party. But other politicians have done much worse and have successfully weathered the storm. Take Republican Senator David Vitter of Louisiana, for example. In 2007, the news media discovered that Vitter’s phone number had turned up in the records of a Washington-area escort service that was a front for prostitution. After a week of refusing to answer questions, Vitter emerged from seclusion with his wife to admit to “a serious sin” and to apologize for his actions. Vitter said his transgressions were a private family matter, and then refused to say another word about the subject.
David Vitter is still in office, winning re-election in 2010, even though his transgressions were illegal - prostitution is still illegal except in Nevada. Polls show that Weiner still had the support of over 50% of his constituents. Sure, he dug a deep hole for himself, but maybe if he had just shut up for awhile, he could have stayed in office. It might not have been possible, but maybe worth a shot. At least it would have given us more time to speculate and make jokes at Weiner's expense. Of course that's why he quit. He wanted to spare his family the humiliation of further Weiner jokes. Maybe it would have been different if his name wasn't Weiner.
Only time will tell if Weiner can make a comeback on the national stage. It is my view that he can. But while there will continue to be Weiner jokes, the story will wind down, occasionally surfacing as a cautionary tale about how not to handle a scandal. The so-called mainstream media will use “Weinergate” as a way of comparing future scandals. The nightly news will go back to business as usual: hard news, followed by intermittent Charlie Sheen and Donald Trump-type stories. Meanwhile, the comedy world is in mourning.
Did Weiner pull out too soon? Comedians think so. They will now have to come up with new material. After all, this kind of comedic perfect storm can't possibly be repeated anytime soon.