Maybe you had to be there to feel the power. I was, on New York’s Fire Island, only one scant social level lower than the fabled Hamptons where Anthony Weiner and wife Huma Abedin were rumored to be enjoying mid-scandal acclaim. It was a summer in the 1960s, and the hostess already had the cheese, crackers and wine out when she got a call.
“We’re sorry to do this to you,” the woman calling began, “but we’re all Catholics, and we’re so rattled by the Vatican II conference in Rome. Instead of coming as we promised, we have to get our people together and discuss what all this means to us and the way we were brought up. Please invite us again, if you can find a way to forgive us!”
I thought of that when the odd drama of Anthony Weiner took such a startling turn last week. Not his resignation from Congress. That wasn’t startling. It was what came next: the huge offers; the book deal; Larry Flynt, the high priest of porn, begging him to come work with his erotic empire at a higher salary; the riptide of a strange kind of sympathy for the disgraced congressman. It was beyond sympathy. It was more like “You know, if we all get together we can make Weiner the Comeback Kid!” Look now for a reality TV show and a think-tank gig.
Suddenly I feel the need to “get OUR people together.” Are you one of “our people”? Easy to tell. Do you see all this triumph and treasure descending upon Weiner as a great way to stick it to the sanctimonious moralists denouncing his antics? Or do you feel more like pounding the pulpit and throwing yourself on the church floor while decrying the handbasket-headed-for-hell in which we find ourselves? Let’s call the two groups the “debauch-ophiles” and the “wholesome-ites.”
I’m a wholesome-ite.
If you are, too, congratulations for admitting it. Will you further admit we’ve suffered a stunning defeat?
At first, it looked as if we were cruising to victory. Rep. Weiner’s deeds, lies and cover-ups earned him universal scorn, leading to his painful (even for me) confession and resignation. Vapors between my ears told me something was awry when Weiner announced a “press conference” to resign; but my suspicions didn’t reach my tongue. Those suspicions did reach the tongues of giant radio talk-show hosts Rush Limbaugh and Steve Malzberg – namely that Weiner was staging, not the last chapter of a political career, but an incredible, chutzpah-heavy FIRST chapter of a comeback; maybe even running for the very seat he’d just resigned. Then Anthony and Huma were spotted together in a supermarket, Huma showing no sign of discomfort or displeasure. Then came the golden hail-storm that promises to continue.
When a misbehaving British boy at a private school returned to his quarters after a disciplinary beating, his buddies were quick to ask, “Did you blub?” – meaning did you squawk, wail, moan? They tried not to. I urge our side not to blub; not to launch into the dreary refrains of lamentation over where we are and where we’re headed. America is in dreadful moral shape and getting worse. Our side should not blub. All our caterwauling will be lapped up as a victory anthem by the other side. I won’t give it to them. I hope you won’t, either. Stiff upper lip, OK?
There was welfare in America before World War II; we called it “home relief.” But there was almost no welfare cheating. Why? Shame was a force that persuaded one and all that no one would ever admit to such a need if it weren’t real. Shame was a powerful, corrective force. In those days, an Anthony Weiner would never have held a press conference to resign. He’d have put a gunny sack over his head and slinked away through the twisted alleys of the twilight world.
Once you lose that power of shame it’s like society losing its immune system. When a serial liar is pelted with lucrative offers, the outgoing message is terrible. What can one individual do against the elevation of the unworthy? I say, fight in your own weight class. I don’t expect you to make Larry Flynt withdraw his offer or make a publisher forget about a Weiner tell-all book. But you can speak up at the office, the dinner party, the bowling alley and embolden those around you who agree but are too timid to take the lead.
You can stick the bony finger of indignation into the cackling face of evil.
At the moment, all we’re gaining in America from this sorry episode is the awareness that the secretary of state of the leading nation in the free world has a top assistant whose mother is intertwined with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Don’t go wobbly. The little limerick says it all:
God’s plan made a hopeful beginning.
Man spoiled it somewhat by sinning.
We trust that the story
Will end in God’s glory.
But at present, the other side’s winning.