12 June, 2011

Why people should still vote for Anthony Weiner

Yes, I’m going there, because for all the over-reporting of this ridiculous story, there is one small point (stop it!) to be made.

When Anthony Weiner sent a crotch-shot to a Twitter follower, his first excuse was that his account had been hacked and that he did not send that photo. Nobody really questioned this explanation. After all, politicians’ websites and social media accounts are large targets both for everyday hackers and for political opponents specifically. His story fell apart when he said he couldn’t confirm or deny that the photo was of him. The obvious follow-up question was, “You don’t recognise your own underwear?”

Having lied about originally sending the picture, he might as well have lied about the rest. If he’d said, “No, that picture isn’t of me,” who would have been able to disprove it? Who would have asked him to drop ’em and fluff up for a comparison?  A good liar would have brazened it out until the story went away.

This tells us something very important about Anthony Weiner. No, not that he has been flirting online. He wouldn’t be the first representative to do that and as far as we know, all of Weiner’s contacts were of age. And he wouldn’t be the first Twitter user to send a ribald picture as a publically visible @reply when they meant to make it a direct message (I’m looking at you, Marieke Hardy). In any case, TwitPic is not private in any way - all your posts are visible to anyone who views your profile.  And he’s certainly not the first politician to come a cropper in not realising how unsecure the internet is – witness the allegedly “tech savvy” governor of Alaska who did government business over a Yahoo webmail account.

No, the really important thing it tells us is that Anthony Weiner is a very, very bad liar.

In a political culture where people are usually defined by the nature, nuance and effectiveness of their obfuscation, this is worth knowing. Bill Clinton (in)famously said, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” which is technically true depending on how you define sexual relations. Larry Craig used his “wide stance,” as his explanation for being misidentified as trawling for a quickie in an airport bathroom. To give him the benefit of the doubt, his explanation may be completely true, strained though it may seem. He initially said he would resign, but he hasn’t and nor should he, since his neither his oath of office nor his election promises said anything for or against picking up rough trade in public toilets. Since Weiner hasn’t done anything that he could be arrested for, why should he resign when Craig hasn’t? Then there is Newt Gingrich’s excuse that it was his passion for his country that led him to have affairs. Well, there’s another precedent Weiner can cite! But perhaps one of the greatest pieces of weaselling that we’ve seen lately – one that makes Bill Clinton look amateurish – is the justification that came out of Jon Kyl’s office for him completely making up a statistic in a speech on the floor of the Senate. He claimed (although it's now been changed in the official record) that ninety percent of Planned Parenthood’s activities were related to abortion. Predictably enough, people checked this statistic and found the number was more like three percent. In a parliamentary system, misleading the house is a grave offence. The explanation from Kyl’s staff after he was caught out was that it was, “not intended to be a factual statement.” Oh, well that’s alright then.

So while not to defend Weiner’s behaviour, is it not just a little refreshing to have someone who we know is really bad at lying? And when we know and expect everyone to be lying to some extent, in a political climate that accepts, expects and ranks lying, at the same time as demanding an unnatural level of wholesomeness, I say vote for the bad liar.  He’ll take you closer to the truth than the good ones.