No More Second Acts!

Anthony Weiner is back.  The voluble former New York congressman and notorious crotch-texter is plotting his political comeback.  “I don’t have this burning, overriding desire to go out and run for office,” he told the New York Times.  “It’s not the single animating force in my life as it was for quite some time.  But I do recognize, to some degree,” he added in a veritable declaration of his candidacy, “it’s now or maybe never for me, in terms of running for something.” 

Weiner may be a nasty piece of work—his own brother calls out his “douchiness”— but he’s not nuts for envisioning himself in Gracie Mansion, the seat of New York’s Mayor.  He’s got a good shot at electoral redemption less than two years after “Weinergate.”  A recent poll of registered Democrats conducted by Marist College/NBC News found Weiner running second in the mayoral race.  

Mark Sanford may have exited Stage Right just a few years ago as a result of his own sex scandal, but the former governor of South Carolina has circled around backstage and is ready to enter Stage Left.  He’s vying to win a congressional seat he once held for three terms.  

Sanford’s five-day disappearance to see his mistress in Argentina during his governorship and subsequent dissembling about his whereabouts would seem sufficient to permanently damage his political career, as would his rank hypocrisy given his social conservatism.  Yet Sanford recently won the GOP primary for his old seat.  While this was before his ex-wife slapped him with a trespassing complaint, in the land of second chances, the latest setback probably won’t likely derail his comeback.  Will anything?  Probably not.  Let he without sin cast the first ballot; let everyone else run for office—again and again.

Republican strategist Alex Castellanos thinks the public’s tolerance for scandal has grown because of technology.  “In the age of constant communications, our politics has devolved to the point that political rehab is now the norm,” he told Politico.  “Although tawdry doings by public figures isn’t new, “what is different is that there is no distinction between private and public life…Everything is public.  Political leaders never take their jerseys off after the game.  There is no ‘after the game.’  Therefore, all the flaws and faults their private lives once sheltered must now be rehabbed in public view.”

Castellanos may be onto something, but our merciful inclination extends beyond scandal-prone elected officials.  Many neoconservatives who confidently promised that naked imperialism would bring salvation to one and all largely remain in good standing in polite society.

While a lawyer similarly inept would be disbarred and an incompetent physician would lose his medical license, the arrogant hacks advocating the invasion of Iraq suffer no sanctions whatsoever.  Their grandiose vision may have proven ruinous for Americans and Iraqis alike, yet their counsel is still sought.  You can find them shamelessly pontificating on television or in the op-ed pages of the country’s most respected newspapers.  Their so-called Freedom Agenda may be relegated to history’s trashcan, but they somehow have retained the “freedom” to be ass-backwards wrong.

Redemption is no sin, of course.  Quite the opposite; it can be commendable.  “I once was lost but now am found,” goes Amazing Grace.  “Was blind, but now I see.”  But here’s the rub: all too often, we don’t recognize the possibility of redemption for the most down and out.  Just look at mandatory sentencing laws, examples par excellence of cruel and unusual punishment for those we judge irredeemable.  However, we do forgive the unworthy, provided they’re from the establishment.  To not recognize this transparent distinction is to miss the most forceful contradiction undermining our democracy.   

Weiner’s sexting was his own business, but not his lying about it.  The latter justified his resignation.  Similarly, Sanford’s dalliance was not the public’s concern, though his deceitfulness following the episode did warrant scrutiny and condemnation.  But aside from perfunctory apologies, what have the two offered up before returning to public life?  Just a short sabbatical. 

And how about the neocons?  They have expressed no regret or contrition.  Anything but.  In most cases, they insist that their discredited worldview has actually been vindicated.  More than a few even took credit for the Arab Spring, which they alleged was inspired by the Freedom Agenda, until the region’s revolutions soured and they backtracked.  But why are we listening to them at all?  Similarly, why has absolution been offered to those who haven’t sought it?

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said, “There are no second acts in American lives.”  Unfortunately, when it comes to the most underserving, he was sadly mistaken. 

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