The Anthony Wiener Bubble
Anthony Weinerís campaign for mayor of New York City was quixotic in two senses of that word. It was quixotic because it was tilting at windmills for little reason other than to show off how smart he was, however much he lacked in intellectual self-discipline or other forms of self-control. It was also quixotic because it was a campaign unlikely to be successful, as has become clear in the recent polls, where he is now riding close to the bottom. This is a candidate who was made by the polls in that he panicked the other candidates even though it was only his notorious behavior that had given him high poll numbers for a while, and he was a candidate who was undone by the polls because as soon as the novelty of him being high wore off and the big guns came out after him, his numbers faded. If the people had been of a mind to forgive him his crime, one that may not be at all peculiar in this modern media age, they might have stuck by him when he admitted to having continued his texting practices after his resignation from Congress. Drunks have relapses. But they never accepted him back into the fold in the first place, largely because, I think, they thought what he had done much too creepy while what Eliot Spitzer had done was bad but familiar from Biblical times on.
So the Anthony Weiner campaign was something of a bubble, easily burst, however much the term bubble is reserved, these days, for economic fiascos that were bound to happen because a sector of the economy was subject to overinvestment. (Arenít all investment sectors bubbles until proven otherwise? Investing in tulip bulbs seemed a good idea to the very financially astute seventeenth century Dutch. Railroads in the nineteenth century were a bubble that just never stopped expanding until the coming of the interstates.)
The Clintons panicked last weekend. They did not want any chance of the Weiner candidacy snowballing and getting him elected so that he could become a disaster zone that would get referenced when Hillary got her 2016 campaign started. So they sent out their people to bombard the talk shows last weekend with negative talk about Weiner and the media were perfectly willing to pick up on that because the media love to kick someone when he is down. The hens love to cluck. Note the number of woman reporters who weighed in on the nature of Weinerís aberration. The men reporters preferred to turn it all into a dirty joke, which is probably the proper level of discourse to use when talking about Weiner.
The Clintons are fully aware of how tangential issues can get in the way of an agenda. The news media play up scandal at the expense of issues. The Clintons barely survived the media when Bill was in the White House, and many of their hopes for Billís second term were never realized. It may be the case that the American people are a forgiving lot. They supported bill through his travails. But the American people want their pound of flesh: a great deal of contrition and associated melodrama before they let go of a scandal.
The way scandal trumps programmatic politics is already clear in the mood shift that has taken place since the Weiner candidacy began. There is no talk about what might have been the issues of the Mayoral race. Talk about racial profiling and education dropped outówhich is probably just as well about education, the candidates no more than the experts having any good ideas about how to increase school performance among the poor. Weinerís texting is where the media moved after the end of the discussion about the George Zimmerman verdict. In that case, the media had blamed Obama for not having been more decisive in calling for gun control or other legislation about guns after Zimmerman was found not guilty, forgetting that he had invested a great deal in trying to get gun legislation passed after the Connecticut school killings and had nothing to show for it. There is no blood to be squeezed from the Congressional stone.
This week, other Obama accomplishments are not discussed very much, perhaps because air time can be devoted instead to Weiner. Obama got peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians going. Maybe the two sides have finally come to realize that no one cares about either of them except themselves and the United States. The region is preoccupied with Syria and the religious war between Sunnis and Shiites. So they might as well make peace while the rest of the region isnít looking. Just holding peace talks is no mean feat even if it does not result in a peace treaty. In the Middle East, negotiations are an accomplishment and a substitute for a treaty while the two sides get used to living side by side.
Obama made a very good speech about race and is today trotting out a plan for another grand bargain, which may be the American equivalent of Middle East peace negotiations. But however much Clinton, Biden and Obama tend to the business of the American people in a responsible way, they know they can be kicked out of the limelight by a scandal. So the message is to suppress scandals rather than let them fester. Weiner serves no public good, neither as a gadfly or as a comic turn on politics, if he takes the limelight, something too precious to squander on the likes of him. And even Huma would understand that were she not so smitten with love.
The drama of politics is so complicated and public opinion so mercurial that you donít know what turn things will take within a day or two. Eliot Spitzer has been the main beneficiary of the Weiner scandal. That was not what was expected when he was being tarred with the same brush as some kind of sexual pervert or, as the clucking hens put it, another example of men behaving badly. Actually, it was public men acting badly because there were women involved, just not ones known to the public. No one has suggested that any of the women with whom Weiner communicated were anything but consenting adults and the women Spitzer dealt with were well compensated sex workers. Maybe prostitution, as has been suggested, is an old crime, while sexting is a new one, its parameters not yet clear, and so therefore it is a more titillating topic.
Maybe Spitzer just handles himself better. He does not always sound on the verge of being hysterical, though I remember many of his judgments when he did hold political office were highhanded and self-righteous. Maybe it is because the comptrollerís office is seen as a consolation prize. That certainly is how Chris Matthews views it.
More important, however, is that whichever of the lackluster crew remaining in the mayoral race manages to win, the center of action in New York would be in a Spitzer led comptrollerís office. He wants to exercise the powers clearly provided to that office in a way that will grab the headlines as well as upset Wall Street. He would be carrying out the liberal-radical program proposed by John Kenneth Galbraith over fifty years ago. An elite of stockholders control corporations because the vast majority of shares are held by pension plans and municipal bodies interested in solid returns rather than corporate governance. What if those public held shares were voted by those who control them, which in New York City is the comptroller, so as to assure that the corporations were engaged in sound social policy?
Such a policy would be perfectly legal even though Bloomberg and others have chimed in already to say that it would be unwise for public figures to use their control of stocks this way. Why not? If free enterprise is holy, then those who own the stocks are the ones to call the tune. If the public owns the stocks, they may have to be wise enough not to kill the golden goose, but then again private holdings did plenty to plunge Wall Street and the auto industry into the tank. And Spitzer is not likely to ruin stocks, his own fortune tied up in them. He knows not to make unreasonable demands. How about just a living wage for MacDonaldís workers? The unions are trying that and a little pressure on top from the corporations that do business with MacDonaldís or handle their investments, including their real estate, might not go to waste. Some thing could be in the works that was more than could be contemplated by the Occupy Wall Street blowhards. Exercising the rights of public stockholders is a very big issue and you now what? It has nothing to do with sex at all. Imagine that.