What could he have possibly been thinking?
What could possess a man to act with such recklessness to jeopardize everything he’s acquired personally and professionally – a US Congressional seat, a strong and growing political reputation and the powerful friends that come with it, a brand new marriage to an attractive and bright up-and-comer in her own right, a future of limitless promise – over something so astonishingly stupid? We’re not talking about a novice adult here, some nineteen year old kid filled with naïve trust in the good will of others and belief in his own imperviousness. Been there- most of us have – and it didn’t work out as well as we hoped but, oh well, lessons learned and we moved forward with a few small battle scars and whole lot more knowledge of life’s realities.
No, we’re talking about an experienced, well-educated, well-mentored, and well-regarded 46 year old man who knew better. We’re talking, of course, about Congressman Anthony Weiner, he of the now infamous twitters of his… well, of his “little namesake.” If you’ve been in deep cover in some third-world media desert, or a coma, these past few weeks and you’re not up on exactly who Anthony Weiner is, take this time to Google him. Go ahead, we’ll wait. For added fun, type “erect wiener” in the search bar (especially if you’re on a work computer right now; you’ll get to have a hilarious, fun-filled talk about it with the Chief, your union rep, an EAP counselor, and the city attorney later on).
It’s not like Weiner didn’t have plenty of examples of politicians mastered by their own poor judgment. Earlier this year, Congressman Christopher Lee of western New York (the same state Weiner serves) resigned amid the scandal of sending shirtless photos of himself to a woman who had posted a “women seeking men” ad on Craigslist. That he had a wife apparently slipped his mind. Who could forget Senator Larry Craig being brought down by his now infamous “wide-stance” in a Minneapolis airport men’s room? And Weiner’s officiate at his own wedding was former President Bill Clinton (“…and do you, Anthony David Weiner, promise to forsake all others… heh heh, heeee… I’m sorry, that gets me every time! Okay, movin’ on…”)! You would think he’d know better, or at least have enough cautionary role models to make better public choices.
So, what could have come over him and caused him to act out in such a self-destructive way? Was it temporary insanity? A cry for help or attention? A collective answer to the bedtime prayers of late night TV talk show hosts and stand up comedians everywhere? Maybe, but more likely it was just a very public manifestation of one of humankinds’ most mysterious but common afflictions: our strange propensity for self-destruction.
Public figures are easy targets. Politicians and entertainers (and doesn’t the line between them seem to blur more and more every day?) fall hard and with great infamy. Sports heroes become uncomfortably ordinary in their failings. Everyday folk crash and burn in relative obscurity – with law enforcement often holding a front row ticket to their unraveling - although their failings are no less devastating as they derail careers, shred families, shatter reputations.
And even cops can be remarkably human in their ability to “snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.”
A recent incident from an Illinois city very near us illustrates just how fast and shockingly the self-annihilation of personal and professional reputation can happen. A 37 year old Deputy Chief, a fast rising star both inside and out of his own department, is alleged to have been caught stealing prescription drugs – specifically narcotic painkillers such as hydrocodone - that had been turned in to the department as part of its unwanted medication disposal program by city residents. Charged with a felony, demoted and placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an administrative review that will likely cost him his job, and having almost certainly destroyed any possible future in law enforcement, we can only wonder, “What could he have possibly been thinking?”