Mr. Weiner! Oh, My Word!06-22-11-margaret.jpg

I first heard of “sexting” in the context of teenage girls who had snapped — shall we say “sophisticated?”— pictures of themselves or parts of themselves and dispatched them to boys electronically.

Images exist forever in the cyber world.

The next chapter of these sexting stories was almost always a weepy and humiliated girl whose parents are stunned that she did what she did, embarrassed for her and for themselves, and worried that they cannot fix this error of juvenile judgment which will be floating around “out there” long after everyone involved is gone.

But grown men?

Members of the United States Congress? Where are their supposedly more mature brains?

United States Representative Anthony Weiner, with his breathtakingly unfortunate surname, is only the latest member of Congress to have been caught using technology inappropriately, but his flameout has been so spectacular and with so many unbelievable permutations, I hardly know what to say. So I will just start with the facts as I know them.

Weiner, 46, an up and coming House member from New York, is a newlywed, married last July in a ceremony performed by former President Bill Clinton. His bride, Huma Abedin, 35, a lovely, highly educated, and accomplished younger woman who works for and is close to former First Lady Hillary Clinton, is expecting the couple’s first child. Weiner and Abedin were considered rising stars in Washington’s world of politics, a couple with a rich, fascinating, cosmopolitan, diverse and possibly “the sky’s the limit” future.

So what did Mr. Weiner do?

For reasons no one has acknowledged understanding, the Congressman blasted off into God only knows where pictures of himself and several of his body parts to various women, several of them embarrassingly young and none of them named Huma Abedin.

Perhaps it is the mother in me, but my first thought about this riveting story — after “What was that man thinking?!?!” — was about Hillary and Huma who have worked together for 15 years and who, age-wise, could be mother and daughter. During the news firestorm, United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her staff, including Huma Abedin, were away on an international mission. Did Hillary, who has expertise in many areas including Men Behaving Badly, comfort and advise Huma, or did she say, “Honey, this, too, shall pass?”

I started reading what others think and there is plenty of it out there.

The ever clever New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, in her piece entitled “Your Tweetin’Heart,” notes that “Tweetin’ ain’t cheating,” at least in the traditional sense. It does spare the Tweeter the risk of disease or the necessity to utter the words, “I did not have sex with that woman,” as Bill Clinton did. But it certainly leaves one open to worldwide ridicule, the implosion of one’s formerly impressive life, and the new phenomenon of sexting rehab, as Anthony Weiner has found out in what must be the hardest way possible.

It does take two to tango, of course, but the Weiner scandal once again raises the question of why men in politics — and there is a long list of them of both political persuasions — sext and more while women offi ce holders tend to steer clear of such behavior. Writing in the New York Times, Sheryl Gay Stolberg offers several explanations — genetic hard-wiring differences, high-profi le working women are simply too busy, and because there are fewer women in politics, they feel the spotlight more acutely. All of that may play into who misbehaves and who does not, and it may also be true, as Stolberg puts it, that while “powerful men attract women, powerful women repel men.”

Then, there is the mysterious question of how and why some Tweetin’ and cheatin’ members of Congress survive sex scandals and some do not.

Prior generations of Americans, including journalists, tended to view such behavior as private, between the offenders and their families and perhaps their constituents (John Kennedy), unless it was so fl agrant that no one could ignore it (Wilbur Mills and Wayne Hayes). We are much less tolerant today, especially if young people are involved (Mark Foley), even though we seem to cut our pols a little slack when it comes to prostitution (David Vitter and Eliot Spitzer, who is currently being rehabilitated by CNN and, in a stranger than fiction turn of events, actually covering the Weiner story.)

It helps if the wife stands by her man, (Hillary Clinton and Silda Spitzer did but Jenny Sanford did not). Ditto for the offenders’ Congressional colleagues. The biggest help of all, though, is probably a distracted media or a bigger story somewhere else in the world.

Those advantages have eluded Anthony Weiner.

Huma was travelling with Hillary, his colleagues cut him loose and the media coverage has been, in the words of political strategist Kevin Madden, “…like burning an ant with a magnifying glass on the hottest day of the year.”

The lesson here?

No matter how cute you think you are, do not take photos of yourself and certainly not your parts and blast them into cyberspace.

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