Everywhere viewers click, breathless cable news anchors are bouncing from coast to coast, racing to keep up with the latest lowlights of politicians caught in scandals. Scandals involving politicians (much like those of ordinary people) come in two categories: sex and money. To keep you reading, today’s in-depth report will focus on the former.
Upon closer examination, it turns out all the latest political scandals seem like reruns — in fact, they seem like parodies of themselves. Indeed, it was not until we looked at the excuses the politicians give when caught that we came up with something original enough to be called news. (We’ll get to it soon.)
First, all lenses were focusing live on an East Coast scandal: A former congressman who is running for mayor of New York City has been caught in the act of treating his Dickens of a name as his ultimate credential. Anthony Weiner has been caught sending women X-rated Internet messages and photos of his moniker. There is, of course, a good reason this seems like a sick rerun of that 2011 scandal involving a congressman. (Which he first denied, then admitted as he quit Congress and promised he’d never do it again.) Yup, same guy. He explains he’s got an addiction and is receiving counseling and is continuing his mayoral campaign.
The next minute, all lenses were focusing live on a West Coast scandal:
A former congressman who is already the mayor of San Diego has been accused of inappropriate behavior by a growing number of women. He is Mayor Bob Filner and the women are saying he touched, fondled and/or (sometimes juicily) kissed them. He explains he has entered into counseling, and he rejects calls for him to resign.
Unfortunately, this also sounds like stories we’ve heard before about many other politicians. We remember former Sen. Bob Packwood of Oregon, who accomplished some fine things in office, yet ultimately resigned in disgrace. In Washington, Filner also compiled an outstanding record as chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. While researching a book, I found his committee was virtually alone in moribund Washington as it pressed a then-dysfunctional Department of Veterans Affairs to resolve its unconscionable backlog of military veterans seeking the benefits they’d earned fighting our battles.
In the annals of scandal reruns, this is sad, but sadly not atypical. But Filner’s folly may have plowed some new ground.
In a letter to the city attorney, the mayor’s lawyer, Harvey Berger, charged that the City of San Diego had “a legal obligation to provide sexual harassment training to all management level employees.” But, he wrote: “The City failed (he put that in bold face) to provide such training to Mayor Filner.”
The Filner blame-deflection ploy, while as old as chutzpah itself, seems so new that not even Anthony Wiener has used it (yet). But wait: Our investigative digging has uncovered a precedent. Legal scholars can find it not by consulting their Blackwood legal bibles, but by plowing through “Seinfeld” reruns.
It is from the episode in which Jerry Seinfeld’s pal, George Costanza, landed a great desk job with Pendant Publishing — until he opted to do some late-night deskwork. Costanza was confronted about it the next morning by his new boss.
BOSS: It’s come to my attention that you and the cleaning woman have engaged in sexual intercourse on the desk in your office. Is that correct?
COSTANZA (angrily, in denial mode): Who said that?
BOSS: She did.
COSTANZA: Was that wrong? Should I not have done that? I tell you, I gotta plead ignorance on this thing. Because if anyone had said anything to me at all when I first started here — that that sort of thing is frowned upon, you know ... ’Cause I’ve worked in a lot of offices, and I tell you, people do that all the time.
BOSS: You’re fired!
This week, at both ends of the North American continent, Weiner and Filner are in counseling and vowing to stay the course. But in the end, the people will probably tell both men, “You’re fired!”
Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service.