It’s been a banner month for sexting and moralizing about sexting. I offer no conclusions about Anthony Weiner’s most recent spate of online dalliances, especially (but not exclusively) since he’s not actually an elected official. But with Weiner and Spitzer entering the political arena again, we’re back to chatter on sex-related scandals. The human drama of the Weiner story is so attention-grabbing because of its extensive electronic documentation alongside its many unanswered questions, an open field ripe for our own projections. Did he betray his family? Or is it a non-traditional marriage? Speculation is cheap. But while it’s always necessary to take a stand when people’s rights may be violated, there’s another counterbalancing value to apply, and that is minding our own damn business.
I grew up in Barney Frank’s Massachusetts. If ever there was a sex scandal that transgressed the taboos of the time, Barney Frank had it cornered. Then he went on to spend 17 more fruitful and celebrated years in Congress. Like many other politicians who have successfully moved past sex scandals, Frank had developed a reservoir of goodwill through his work before the incidents. The opinions about him that mattered were the ones about his political record, not the politics of his love life. It’s easy to distract ourselves with politicians’ personal lives because that’s something we think we have in common with them, a foothold for making sense of their capacity for loyalty and common sense. That said, I’d never want to be married to a Congressman and I couldn’t begin to imagine my way into the mind of someone who would. When it comes to politicians who don’t make their careers by policing what happens in other people’s bedrooms, it’s worth inspecting the actual motivations behind our inclination to police theirs. I was shocked when Weiner stepped down. I can only assume there were circumstances beyond the aptly titled twit pics, since politicians have weathered much worse and refused to resign, even when, unlike Weiner, their deeds involved dereliction of their actual jobs.