If your last name is “Weiner” and you seek elective office, don’t share pictures of your genitals. (This goes double if your name is E. Normus Johnson or Harry Wang.)
Former Congressman Anthony Weiner learned that lesson the hard way—let the word play begin!—discovering there’s no way a man can overcome New York Post headlines like “WEINER EXPOSED”, “WEINER’S SECOND COMING”, “WEINER’S RISE AND FALL”, “WEINER: I’LL STICK IT OUT”, “HIDE THE WEINER” and the more presidential “OBAMA BEATS WEINER.”
The acclaimed documentary Weiner hits video-on-demand this week, as filmmakers followed his attempt to return to public life after his first sexting scandal in 2011. Incredibly, they were allowed to continue filming as his second sexting scandal broke.
We’ve come a long way since Weiner’s 2013 defeat: This election, everyone is a joke.
Audiences thus get to see a deeply unsuccessful campaign and a somehow still-intact marriage, as wife/mother of his child/Hillary Clinton’s top aide and “second daughter” Huma Abedin stands by his side. (The Washington Post notes Abedin also “dated actor John Cusack” and was “romanced by George Clooney”, which makes winding up with Weiner seem even more like winning a contest from hell.)
Yet while it’s hard to feel too bad about our government missing out on the services of a fellow with a knack for self-destruction, Weiner was more than the man who launched a thousand puns. A former campaign staffer has written a fairly damning account of his final run, but the most depressing part comes when Weiner attempts to shift the focus away from his scandal by discussing actual issues; he finds them so poorly covered that he doesn’t even bother getting out of his car at one press conference where zero journalists are in attendance. (All were doubtless off trying to come up with a headline to top Daily News offering “Tip of the Weiner.”)
The high point of Anthony Weiner’s pre-sexting public career was probably his very loud support of a bill covering the health care costs of sick 9/11 first responders. (A goateed Jon Stewart devoted 10 minutes on The Daily Show to explaining how this seeming slam-dunk of a bill got swept up in poison pill amendments and counter-responses.) Even if you didn’t support helping sick 9/11 first responders—and if you didn’t, you’re a dick—Weiner was still accurately critiquing one of the bigger problems with government: Even the most popular legislation can be undermined by cynical, largely secretive partisan maneuvering on both sides.
By the end, no one was listening to Anthony Weiner about anything that didn’t involve, well, weiner. He was a joke and nothing more.
We’ve come a long way since his 2013 defeat: This election, everyone is a joke. There have been 12 Republican presidential debates. These debates were hosted by a total of six different networks and included up to 10 main-stage candidates plus another seven candidates as an opening act. Among the most memorable moments?
- Marco Rubio turning into a robot.
- Ben Carson stalling out somewhere between the green room and the actual stage.
- Donald Trump passionately defending his dong.
(Oh, and here’s the complete takeaway from the Democratic presidential debates: Larry David played Bernie Sanders on SNL.)
Indeed, Trump’s victory this year may be attributable to his ability to come up with brief-but-insulting descriptions of key rivals: “Low-Energy” Jeb Bush, “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz, “Little Marco” Rubio. (Which led to Rubio calling him “Big Donald”, suggesting Little Marco doesn’t quite get how insulting nicknames work.) Trump plans to step up the nickname game for November, testing out both “Crooked Hillary” and the more alliterative “Heartless Hillary.”
This is only appropriate: Insulting nicknames have been part of the American political process since the beginning. The only person ever above political mockery was George Washington, who set an impossible standard. Along with leading the military campaign for independence and ensuring we would be a democracy by voluntarily stepping down from office, he was an annoyingly flawless human being: tall, rich, a combat veteran, a surprisingly good dancer and owner of his own Mount Vernon distillery, meaning he always had the whiskey to get the party started. Indeed, it still makes whiskey today as this great man keeps on giving to America.
Washington’s successor John Adams was 5’7”, bald and opponents nicknamed him “His Rotundity” as a tribute to his obsession with official titles and general fatness.
American political discourse never fully recovered, but there was also room for more elevated discussion: Adams and frenemy Thomas Jefferson occasionally tried to destroy each other yet engaged in an epic correspondence, arguing matters both political and philosophical. Likewise, when Abraham Lincoln faced Stephen Douglas during their Senate campaign in 1858, they participated in seven debates where:
- One man would talk for an hour.
- The other would reply for 90 minutes.
- The original speaker would reply for another 30.
Again, they each had to listen to the other speak for 90 minutes… seven different times. By contrast, count how many times Hillary and Bernie manage to interrupt each other during this 30-second clip.
Dare I say it, we as a nation have lost our willingness to delve deeply into what matters. This makes sense, as the thought of a politician talking for 90 minutes straight is the most horrifying thing I can imagine. Then again, how many of us have listened to multiple hours of a sports call-in show where grown men yell at each over whether or not an athlete kicked someone in the balls on purpose? Or binge-watched Breaking Bad so intensely we genuinely forgot what day it was? At some point, we need to apply this attention span to vital matters of the day and discuss if this is the time to repair our nation’s crumbling infrastructure and if not now then when…
Sorry, lost consciousness there. (You probably did too.)
So how do we get our candidates to hold our interest even as they engage in discussions of actual issues? My first instinct was: “If everything’s a joke, just bring in more issue-based humor!” Then I listened to Hillary Clinton deliver this “Running for president shouldn’t be about delivering insults… it should be about delivering results for the American people” “punchline” (at 38 seconds).
For its own safety, comedy should be allowed nowhere near this woman.
No, we need the Game of Thrones approach.
Let’s face it: Many of us have a better understanding of the political system of the Westerlands (it’s run by whichever Lannister hasn’t been recently murdered) and the pressing matters of the day facing the people of the North (White Walker attacks) than we do our own nation. And those actually reading the books get abundant brilliance from George R.R. Martin, but also a lot of food. (Indeed, there is now the A Feast of Fire and Ice Cookbook.)
Simply, there is a great deal of stuff in Thrones that isn’t inherently riveting, but we stay engaged because it’s masterfully written, superbly acted and boasts consistently high production values—and a tremendous amount of well-timed nudity.
Right now, the American electoral process probably can’t spring for the writing, acting or production values (certainly not at a premium cable level), but we can still get people to take their clothes off. Indeed, Gawker will generously shell out up to $140 million for the privilege of sharing exposed Hulkamaniacs with the Internet.
So if Big Donald wants to demonstrate once and for all he has nothing to be ashamed of, let him whip out the evidence. (At which point he’ll be given the time really to delve into the specifics of his tax plan.) Likewise, Hillary can prove to her critics once and for all she has nothing to hide. (Then she can talk us through the nitty-gritty of how she’ll make debt-free college possible.)
We voters might not always like what we see—despite Trump’s best efforts, it appears his transition team head Chris Christie may still be having the occasional Oreo—but at last our leaders will have our undivided attention.
In summary: It may again be time to unleash Weiner.
So to speak.