This past week, we’ve been treated to a boffo mini-series of press appearances by Congressman Anthony Weiner, who may or may not have sent a photo of his erect penis, concealed by briefs, to a 21-year-old Seattle gal via his Twitter account. (He insists he didn't, but won't say whether the photo was his.) What’s been most remarkable about this bizarre soap hasn’t been the weird non-denial denials or the fact that he didn’t report the incident to the authorities. It’s that he seems to be relishing the attention he’s getting. This man can’t get enough of himself. What we all ought to be gawping at isn’t Weiner’s wiener, as the tabloids love to say, but his ego.
Politics, unsurprisingly, is a profession that tends to attract narcissists. In 1998, psychologists Robert Hill and Gregory Yousey administered a standard questionnaire called the Narcissism Personality Inventory to a large sample of state legislators, university professors, clergy, and librarians. They discovered that the politicians were a breakaway cluster of amour-propre — downright startling given that they were, in the words of the researchers, “modestly compensated part-time politicians with some other occupation during much of the year.”
Just imagine how actual members of Congress would score, especially those like Anthony Weiner with well-established propensities for high-profile legislative dramatics.
Weiner’s obviously a bright guy, but there are plenty of those in D.C. What separates him from the pack is, to a large extent, his propulsive ambition, combined with a robust belief in his own competence — that he’s the right guy to represent our interests in Congress. And that’s fine. We need people like that in politics. At least his self-esteem is based on accomplishment (he drew up a substantive single-payer health-care plan two years ago, for instance) rather than accidental fame, like a reality-television star’s.
But when an elected official cheerfully stands before a bank of cameras several times a day for the ostensible purpose of answering questions and then refuses to answer a single one; when he calls one television journalist a jackass and trots out his favorite condescending shtick
Indeed, the one thing we learned from that baffling string of non-press conferences — the one bit of information Anthony Weiner happily shared with all of us — is that he has now surpassed Michele Bachmann, another member of Congress with a reputation for lunatic self-regard, in Twitter followers. You like me, you really like me!
The real problem with Anthony Weiner, in the end, isn’t that he may be blitzkrieging college co-eds with pictures of his dick. The problem is that he’s behaving like one.