All That Meat and No Potatoes – The Trouble with Anthony Weiner

Audie Bock is not a household name.  Only California based political nerds like myself even remember her.  She was, for a brief moment, the highest ranking Green party politician in the country.  Happenstance got her into that position.

Ron Dellums’ retirement from the US Congress in 1998 started a daisy chain of special elections.  Then-State Senator Barbara Lee took Dellums’ seat.  Then-State Assemblyman Don Parata took Lee’s seat.  When Parata’s State Assembly seat became vacate, a special election was held in which Audie Bock ran as a Green Party candidate.  Says Wikipedia:

Although she received less than 9 percent of the vote in the February 2 special election for Perata’s assembly seat, no candidate received 50 percent of the vote; this caused a runoff among the top-vote getter from each political party.

I don’t remember who the Republican candidate was for the seat or if there even was one.  This district is one of the bluest of blue districts in the country.  It includes Berkeley fer Christ’s sakes.  A Republican winner?  Fuggedaboutit.  Normally the Democratic candidate would therefore be a shoe-in, but not this time.  That candidate, Elihu Harris, who for years was in the State Assembly and later became mayor of Oakland until he was termed out, ran a sleepy-eyed campaign which culminated in allegations that he tried to bribe people to vote for him by promising them fried chicken — a chicken in ever pot, KFC style.  That didn’t go over too well.  So Bock, a virtual unknown, won in a squeaker.  The Greens thought they had arrived.

Buyers’ remorse soon followed.  A political neophyte, Bock quickly went from being the Green’s brightest star to one of its greatest embarrassments.  Though she had just been elected, she had to face election again in a year for a full term, because the 1999 election was only to finish out the term of then-Assemblyman Perata.  She fretted about facing opponents so soon after gaining her seat and allowed herself to be convinced that her odds would improve if she switched party affiliations from Green to Decline-to-State.  So she summarily dumped her Green party status without so much as a by-your-leave.  Then, to add insult to injury, she accepted political donations from oil companies.  Alienating everyone who once supported her, including legions of Green Party volunteers ready to pound the pavement on her behalf, she lost miserably in the 2000 election.  Bock has since faded from the political landscape.

When thinking about Congressman Anthony Weiner, the maelstrom of the every evolving Weiner-gate scandal, I’m reminded in a strange way of Audie Bock.  Bock did not e-mail compromising pictures of herself — Twitter didn’t exist in 2000 — but she was self-destructive and she ultimately did damage to the thing she purportedly supported, that is, the Green Party.  Now one could make the argument that she never really believed in the Green Party and just used them as a stepping stone to elected office.  I’d buy that.  But still, she did do damage to the Green brand.  She came off as a self-serving flake with little political acumen.  I fear that the same may well become Congressman Weiner’s political epitaph.

Weiner screwed up in two ways.  First, he helped the otherwise questionable Andrew Breitbart gain creds.  During the denial phase, Mr. Weiner all but accused Breitbart of hacking his Twitter account and trying to slime him for political reasons.  Given Breitbart’s track record of going after people for political reasons (Shirley Sherrod, anyone?) and using questionable means to do so, the charge, on surface, seemed a legitimate one.  But Weiner knew it was bullshit from the start.  He had sent crotch shots to young women via Twitter, with and without undergarments on apparently, and Twitter being the medium it is, it was entirely possible for Breitbart to get a copy of these photos.  And he did.  And he made hay about them.  After Weiner finally fessed up, he put himself in the unenviable position of having to kiss Breitbart’s ass and apologize to him.  Had he done the right thing and owned his crazy immediately, he wouldn’t have turned Breitbart into a vindicated victim of false accusations.  The next time Mr. Breitbart goes on the attack in a more Shirley Sherrod kinda way, he’s more apt to get away with it again because now the media will view him as more legitimate.  Thanks Weiner.

Second, Weiner was a fire-breathing dragon with perhaps more smoke than fire.  He annoyed his own caucus, even as he developed an ever-increasing fan base of lefty admirers.  Videos of him lambasting Republicans on the House floor over the ill-fated public option in the health care debate went viral.  Raw emotion and passion sells.  There are few lefty firebrands and he is certainly one of them.  And raw emotion and passion are cool, so long as you have the creds to back them up.  Apparently, this has come into question now that he’s under a very tight microscope.

But even before his teary live-feed admission to his friends and family — especially his wife, Huma Abedin, a close aide to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton — colleagues in the New York congressional delegation said they had serious reservations about the incongruity between his high media profile and what they considered his low impact in pushing legislation behind the scenes.  (Washington Post)

It’s one thing to be a loudmouth that has garnered the support of colleagues through nose-to-the-grind-stone work.  It’s another to just be a loudmouth who sometimes went against the wishes of your own caucus, as the article above documents in quotes from anonymous Congress-reps.  If you fall into the latter category, don’t get caught up in a stupid sex scandal that can not only derail your career and leave you with few friends to come to your defense, but also threaten to bring down the very causes you support.  Progressive voices are too often dismissed as flaky, pie-in-the-sky, hippy-dippy, tree-hugging, unrealistic, idealistic, unworkable, unthinkable, ludicrous, and silly.  It doesn’t help when one of them actually has at least some of those attributes.

Congressman Weiner’s sexcapades are his own affair.  This is something he has to work out with his wife and family.  Meanwhile, if he wishes to stay in politics, he needs to kill the fiery speeches, severely curtail his TV appearances on Rachel Maddow, et al., and focus on being a politician.  Work it, don’t jerk it.  Develop creds, not ego.  Then he’ll become a more useful servant to the ideas he supports and the constituents he represents.

© 2011, gar. All rights reserved.

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