That scourge of the printed word, H.L. Menken, once remarked that William Jennings Bryant was the only man he knew that could strut while sitting down. Of course Menken never knew Anthony Weiner, which is too bad because the world would have been much the richer in savoring that scornful wit that Menken was so famous for ladling out in generous portions.
This peculiar thought, buried not too deep in the obviously penetrable silos of my mind, surfaced with a vengeance this past weekend as mayoral hopeful Anthony Weiner, grinning like some demented hyena, lustily strutted down Fifth Avenue in the Israel Day Parade holding in one hand the Israeli flag and tightly clutching in the other a megaphone as he was greeted by a chorus of jeers and even some cheers from bystanders who lined the way. Yes, Weiner is back after tweeting (I believe that’s what they call it) several explicitly lewd pictures of himself to a bevy of young women he had never even been formally introduced to. He then red-faced lied about it and was ultimately forced to resign from Congress when the evidence became painfully obvious that the tweeted photos were indeed of little Anthony from Park Slope, Brooklyn, wearing little more than his birthday suit. The mind reels at the lack of judgment, the stupidity of someone with such exalted political ambitions to expose himself in such an outrageously, outlandish fashion.
In more normal times such a transgression would have translated into permanent retirement. Nevertheless, after a brief sabbatical of repentance, or so he told us, Weiner purged himself of these demons and no longer indulged in showing demure strangers undressed photos of himself graphically clutching his crotch. Hence, we have the second coming of Anthony Weiner and he hopes that on his pilgrimage to higher office he will find not only forgiving hearts but willing votes. It’s not implausible given the squalor of contemporary culture. Rudy Giuliani openly and shamelessly conducted an affair during his mayoralty; Barney Frank cavorted with a male prostitute and lately being a convicted felon seems to be a requirement for elected office in some of America’s big cities. Obloquy from a fall from grace is but a transitional phase in the politician’s ascent; like a caterpillar cocooning into a beautiful butterfly. Take the strange case of Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina, a former Eagle Scout, who supposedly was hiking the Appalachian Trail (what could be more American than that?) but was instead secretly misusing state travel funds to travel to Argentina so that he could conduct an affair with his mistress. Sanford was compelled to resign but after shedding a few tears and uttering a string of mea culpas the conservative Republican got himself elected to Congress — all with the ringing endorsement of Larry Flynt, publisher of Hustler magazine. Perhaps politics doesn’t make such strange bedfellows after all.
So hope springs eternal in the merry-go-round world of American politics. In a strikingly weak field of contenders, Weiner has a real chance of winning the highest office in the world’s greatest city. The unappealing front runner, Christine Quinn, is a virago whose trash-talking vulgarity bears an unfortunate resemblance to that shrew Bella Abzug who tormented civilized sensibilities back in the ’60s & ’70s. Quinn has recently written a memoir intimately detailing her struggles with alcoholism and bulimia. While I have the deepest sympathy and offer the strongest encouragement to those who battle these afflictions, it only underscores that in today’s political environment warts not only matter but may well be indispensable for political success. Could a contrite Elliot Spitzer be far behind in calling a news conference?
I’m not trying to be judgmental; let he who has not sinned cast the first stone. We are all in need of forgiveness; broken works of art is how one writer aptly described the human race. But in the public realm, this forgiveness is troublingly embedded in a cult of narcissism that causes me to pinch my nostrils tightly whenever I get a whiff of it, which is depressingly often. Do these officials or former officials think that the Republic cannot carry on in their absence? Or do they believe that to be re-elected after being disgraced is the summit of redemption, the ultimate act of contrition? That kind of self-serving putrid thinking rots the moral entrails from the inside out.
When I think of pols such as Weiner, Sanford and Quinn, I cannot help but think of Caravaggio’s famous painting of Narcissus adoringly gazing at his own reflection in a clear pool of water. These screaming-for-attention vote peddlers seem so excessively and even exclusively preoccupied with grandiose visions of themselves that their condition seems symptomatic of a classic narcissistic personality disorder. These are the folks who feel so attached to their own superiority that they cannot exist or be happy without basking in the spotlight of center stage in which we are forced to be their audience.
But before we despair over this crop of compulsive and irredeemable egotists, let us consider the redoubtable N.Y.C. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who has been studiously reticent about his ambitions. His credentials make him easily the strongest candidate in the field if he would but choose to throw his hat into the mayoral sweepstakes. As N.Y.C. Police Commissioner he has been the only person to hold that post for two non-consecutive tenures. He has been a member of the N.Y.P.D. since 1960; he is a former Marine and a veteran of the Vietnam War, where he repeatedly came under enemy fire. Since his appointment as police commissioner in 2002, crime has plummeted 40 percent. He holds a juris doctorate at St. John’s University School of Law. He is neither loud nor obnoxious; he seems comfortable in his own skin and natural reserve. His example as a family man is beyond reproach and is a refreshing contrast from the vainglorious, pompous effrontery of today’s frontrunners.
I have not lived in New York City or any of its boroughs for a very long time. But the great city is much like mother; you leave her but never cease loving her. June 10 is the final filing date for those who want to run for mayor, so as of this writing there are 5 days left to open the window and let in a breath of fresh air. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Ray Kelly will rescue the city he already helped save once before.