If Anthony Weiner had been clever enough to use self-deprecating humor when his private sexting first became public, he might still be in Congress or have a better chance of becoming mayor of New York City. Instead, he's become the joke.
In 2004, I was in New York to cover the GOP convention that re-nominated President George Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney for a second term. One evening during the convention week, a friend invited me to a comedy club where an up-and-coming Democratic congressman was going to do a standup routine. The congressman was Anthony Weiner and he actually was pretty funny.
Obviously, Weiner knows how effective humor can be. He is a friend of The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, after all. What would have happened in 2011 when his sexting activities came to light if, instead of trying to deny it and spin an elaborate lie, he had made himself the butt of jokes? "What do you expect from a guy named Weiner?" he could have asked. "I was just trying to keep up with the cool kids with all this social media and I got way too social."
Of course he would have had to be serious about taking responsibility and making amends with his wife. He could have flown to L.A. to enroll in a sex therapy program with a few Hollywood stars. But allowing himself to lampoon the absurdity and stupidity of his own actions would have been a smart move too.
Would he have been able to hang on to his seat in Congress? It just might have worked. After all, his philandering was all digital. Bill Clinton did the real thing and he survived impeachment and remains the most popular politician in America. Mark Sanford was able to finish his term as governor of South Carolina, even after admitting his affair with an Argentine hottie. His wife dumped him, but South Carolina voters just elected him to Congress.
The revelation that a politician has been looking for love in all the wrong places is no longer a guaranteed career killer. When Louisiana voters found out their U.S. senator, David Vitter, had been hiring prostitutes, they did not much care and re-elected the guy. New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer had to leave office when his own prostitution scandal broke, but now he's back with a very good chance of becoming New York City's next comptroller.
Yes, a joke instead of a lie would have helped Weiner back then – but probably not now that we have found out he continued to engage in sexting after he quit Congress and after both he and his wife had gone very public with the story that all that kind of stuff was in the past. It turns out the photos he sent of his private parts got even more explicit, the sexting evolved to phone sex and he adopted the online moniker "Carlos Danger." (Actually, picking that alias does prove he has a sense of humor.)
The New York Times editorial board and a string of Democratic politicians are now insisting that Weiner drop out of the race for mayor, but nothing he did was against the law and, if hypocrites like David Vitter still have their jobs, why should Weiner have to quit just because he is an embarrassment to the city?