Margaret Wente

Just bar men from politics

The Globe and Mail

U.S. Congressman Anthony Weiner, D-NY, wipes his eye during a news conference in New York where he admitted that he tweeted a bulging-underpants photo of himself to a young woman. (Richard Drew/Richard Drew/AP)

Anthony Weiner doesn't need an ethics committee investigation. He needs a shrink.

The hapless Mr. Weiner (insert obligatory bad joke here) is the New York congressman who spent all last week denying that he'd tweeted pictures of himself in his underwear to women he'd befriended on the Internet.

Inevitably, he was outed. On Monday, he gave one of the most cringe-inducing press conferences of all time. "This was me doing a dumb thing and doing it repeatedly and lying about it," he said weepily. "I'm deeply regretting what I have done." And then he added, "I'm not resigning."

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That's how deluded the man is. Everybody knows this turkey's done. Somehow Mr. Weiner missed the news that sexting can be hazardous to your career - especially when you are a widely hated liberal attack-dog who's on every conservative's hit list. So what if he never actually had sex with those women? He indulged in stupid, reckless juvenile behaviour, then denied it until he was forced to admit the humiliating truth. As one Democratic congresswoman asked him, "How can you explain that somebody can be so smart but so stupid?"

Well, that's the age-old question. The list of smart but stupid politicians (Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Edwards, Bill Clinton, Eliot Spitzer, allegedly Dominique Strauss-Kahn) keeps growing by the day. Every one of them took insane risks. Every one imagined they were irresistible to women - even Mr. Weiner, whose underwear shot, to be frank, makes him look completely goofy.

What is it about politics that tempts a man to make a testosterone-induced jackass of himself? Actually, I don't think testosterone is primarily to blame. I think narcissism is primarily to blame. Certain men go into politics because they crave public adulation. They desperately need to seduce us en masse. Our approval is necessary to their sense of self, and without it, they're not really sure they exist. Their wayward sex drive is really part of their insatiable desire to reassure themselves that they are loved.

Some people theorize that some powerful men have a death wish, and secretly want to get caught. I'm not so sure. I think they're just adrenalin junkies. They thrive on excitement. And nothing is more exciting than the thrill of the illicit.

In the United States, serious people are in despair that the serious business of the nation - monster deficits, the bitter fight over Medicare and all the rest - has once again been hijacked by silly sexual hijinks. And they're right.

But it could be worse. They could live in Italy, where the hijinks never stop. Silvio Berlusconi's notorious "bunga bunga" parties - and his habit of using the government as a patronage machine for his pneumatic girlfriends - make American sex scandals look sweetly innocent. Mr. Berlusconi, a decrepit 5-foot-4 lothario with hair plugs, has turned his country into a laughingstock. His antics wouldn't be tolerated on this side of the Atlantic, but the Italians can't seem to get rid of him.

In the United States, there is zero tolerance for Mr. Weiner's pathetic folly. But in Italy, according to Ariel Levy's eye-popping report in the New Yorker this week, many men feel their leader is being unfairly attacked for being irresistible to women. Needless to say, Mr. Berlusconi thinks so too. He does not go in for American-style contrition. A week before his trial began (for soliciting prostitution with a minor and misuse of power), he joked, "Did you hear the latest poll? They asked women between 20 and 30 years old if they want to make love to Berlusconi. Thirty-three per cent said Yes! Sixty-seven per cent said 'Again?' "

There's one solution to the problem of men in politics, of course. We could just bar them from it entirely. That would take care of the narcissism problem and the sex scandals, and would no doubt raise the general tone of political discourse. This sensible solution is currently under review at the International Monetary Fund, which is in the market for a new chief who is testosterone-free.

As for Mr. Weiner, he'll never be mayor of New York. But life's not over. Maybe someone will offer him a talk show.

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