Anthony Weiner, Gnostic
The technology is new, but the sin is so, so old.
The latest "victim" betrayed by the very technology he thought to have harnessed for his own nefarious ends—in case you've been fast asleep under a rock somewhere—is Rep. Anthony Wiener (D-NY), busted this week for emailing and tweeting half-a-dozen women, none of whom happened to be his wife, sexually explicit messages and photos. The story ballooned into a media frenzy largely because Weiner's initial denials dragged a story that should have been over in 24 hours into days of increasingly bizarre interviews and defenses. Finally, it all culminated in the sort of tearful, emotional confession that has been played out on the public stage far too often before, and, arguably, to greater effect.
The overwhelming sense of the whole lurid affair is sadness: what a waste of a man, a marriage, a political career, power, time, and human relationships. Along with the sadness, of course, is much room for outrage, particularly from Weiner's constituents and his wife, who reports now say is pregnant with the couple's first child, and her family and friends.
Yet some encouraging news has emerged from the mire.
Media coverage of the story and the public's reaction seems to indicate that we've come a long way in our professed sexual ethics since the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal, circa 1998. At that time, then-President Bill Clinton insisted that oral sex did not constitute actual sex, and that he had therefore not committed adultery. Although 87 percent of Americans disagreed with Mr. Clinton then, much public discussion at that time centered on the exact definition of adultery, and which particular sex acts crossed the line (fellatio?) and which ones didn't (cigars?).
However, with Weinergate (as the case, naturally, has been dubbed), the discussion is a bit more morally sophisticated. For the moral debate swirling around this scandal, besides whether or not Weiner should resign, centers not on the merely technical definition of adultery but on the more holistic, and even more biblical, idea of fidelity. If the Clinton sex scandal focused on the letter of the law, the Weiner situation seems to be more centered on the spirit of the law.
Neither the public nor the proliferating experts and bloggers seem to be buying into a bright line between actual physical contact (which Weiner denies) and online liaisons, despite Weiner's attempt to cop that plea in his confession. In fact, a quick poll done by the Associated Press in the wake of his Monday confession found that many Americans say that it doesn't have to be physical to be cheating. In another poll, "60 percent considered sending lewd photos over the Internet 'to people other than your partner' to be cheating."
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