|President Obama and Ann Curry|
President Barack Obama, in so many words, has called on U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) to resign in the wake of revelations that the Congressman had sent explicit photos of himself to women online.
Obama's remarks came in an interview with NBC's Ann Curry that aired yesterday. While Obama's sentiments are understandable, and he hardly is alone among Democrats in calling for Weiner to step down, the president seems to be blissfully unaware that he is practicing a gross double standard.
After all, this is the same president who has said the country needs to "look forward, not backwards" regarding possible misconduct by officials in the George W. Bush administration. If Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, and other Bush-era thugs are not to be held accountable, why should Anthony Weiner be forced to "look backwards" and step down because of his transgressions?
As usual, Obama sounded sensible and articulate in commenting on a major issue of the day. Here is what he told Curry about the Weiner case:
ANN CURRY: Should Congressman Anthony Weiner resign?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, obviously what he did was highly inappropriate. I think he's embarrassed himself, he's acknowledged that, he's embarrassed his wife and his family. Ultimately there's going to be a decision for him and his constituents. I can tell you that if it was me, I would resign. Because public service is exactly that, it's a service to the public. And when you get to the point where, because of various personal distractions, you can't serve as effectively as you need to at the time when people are worrying about jobs and their mortgages and paying the bills, then you should probably step back.
For what it's worth, I agree with every word of Obama's statement. I think Weiner has compromised his ability to effectively serve in Congress, and while I hope he returns to the political scene someday, I think he needs to step aside for now. My view on the Weiner matter is consistent with what I've expressed on this blog now for four years--that justice and ethical matters are important, and Democrats should take firm stands on such issues because Republicans certainly are not going to do it.
Obama, on the other hand, has a history of saying we should "look forward, not backwards" regarding misconduct. And he said it about Bush officials who probably engaged in gross criminality. We've seen no sign that Weiner did anything that could be described as criminal. So why should he be held accountable while Bush officials were not?
The Weiner episode has caused upheaval in our household. We are regular viewers of MSNBC's evening programming, and about five or six months ago, Mrs. Schnauzer began to gush about this articulate, intelligent Congressman from New York who often visited Rachel, Ed, Lawrence and the gang.
"That Congressman from New York is so smart and well spoken, and he stands up to Republicans," Mrs. Schnauzer would say. "I love him."
"Are you talking about Anthony Weiner?" I said.
"That's him," she said. "He's great."
From her breathless tone, I sensed that she considered Weiner to be relatively easy on the eyes. Perhaps one clue came when she said, "Help me sweet Jesus, but that is one fine looking Congressman!"
So I started referring to the New Yorker as her "boyfriend." "Hey," I'd say, "your boyfriend is ripping Boehner a new one on Rachel. Come check it out."
It might sound like I was being a bit of a wisenheimer. But in my defense, this was an example of "fair turnabount" in the annals of husband-wife relations. For about four years now, I've made it a practice to scurry to the television anytime I hear that U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) is on. When I made it known that I found the Congresswoman to be extremely well versed on the issues, Mrs. Schnauzer said, "Ah, come on, you think she's cute."
"Well, now that you mention it, she is quite fetching."
After that, Debbie Wasserman Schultz became my "girlfriend." I didn't mind that designation because, in my view, it only shows that I have exquisite taste in Congresswomen. But I was thankful that Anthony Weiner developed such a major MSNBC profile that he caught Mrs. Schnauzer's attention and allowed me to turn the tables.
Now Wasserman Schultz has called on Weiner to step down, throwing Mrs. Schnauzer and me into a state of utter confusion--which is not much different from our usual state. My "girlfriend" is playing hardball with her "boyfriend." What's a couple to do?
As for Obama, Mrs. Schnauzer is much more forgiving of him than I am. We both enthusiastically voted for him in November 2008, and Obama remains the only political candidate I've endorsed on this blog. Mrs. Schnauzer remains a devout supporter. But the president started losing me in January 2009, a few days before he even took office. That's when he made the infamous "look forward, not backwards" comment in an interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos.
That comment reflected a weakness and lack of principles that, in my view, helped cost Democrats the House of Representatives in 2010. It probably is a major reason that at least one recent poll showed Republican Mitt Romney with a legitimate chance to unseat Obama in 2012.
Why has the "look forward, not backwards" philosophy been so damaging? Let's look back at the exchange between Stephanopoulos and President-Elect Obama on January 11, 2009:
Q: The most popular question on your own website is related to this. On change.gov it comes from Bob Fertik of New York City and he asks, ‘Will you appoint a special prosecutor, ideally Patrick Fitzgerald, to independently investigate the greatest crimes of the Bush administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping.’
OBAMA: We’re still evaluating how we’re going to approach the whole issue of interrogations, detentions, and so forth. And obviously we’re going to be looking at past practices and I don’t believe that anybody is above the law. On the other hand, I also have a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards. . . . My orientation is going to be moving forward.
Notice that Stephanopoulos says this was the No. 1 concern on Obama's Web site, featuring questions that probably came from his most ardent supporters, genuine progressives. Also notice that Obama says he doesn't believe that "anybody is above the law" before essentially saying in the very next sentence that Bush officials, indeed, would be above the law.
Perhaps Obama deserves a smidgen of credit for sticking to his word. He told us before taking office that he was going to be worthless on justice issues--and he has been just that.
By the way, I appeared Monday on the San Francisco-based Peter B. Collins Show to discuss the ongoing federal bingo trial in Alabama, the recent "retirement" of Bush-era U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, and other justice-related issues. I thought I was disappointed in Obama on the justice front, but Peter B. is even more outspoken about it than I am. In fact, Peter B. makes a compelling case that Obama has been an utter failure on justice matters both large and small, national and international. You can check out our discussion at the following link. The segment featuring yours truly begins at about the 35.55 mark on the podcast. Mainly, you don't want to miss Peter B.'s riff on the Obama DOJ, which really gets rolling at about the 53:20 mark. It's great stuff, and I was just along for the ride:
Peter B. Collins Show: June 13, 2011
Obama's "look forward" philosophy, of course, never has made a lick of sense. You can't address any form of misconduct, criminal or otherwise, without looking backward to examine what happened.
That's why Obama looks foolish in his interview with Ann Curry. He has backed himself into an ideological corner by punting away his moral authority on matters of right and wrong.
If the president can't show any spine, at least he should show some consistency. When asked about matters of misconduct--involving Anthony Weiner or anyone else--Obama should say, "Hey, I said the Bush crowd should get a free pass, and that has to go for everyone else. No one should be held accountable for misdeeds that require us to look backwards."
Such a statement would sound nutty, of course. And that means the president probably would be wise to keep his mouth shut when asked about Anthony Weiner or others who have stepped in various forms of doo-doo. When you have undercut your moral authority on a subject, you're best off to remain silent when that subject comes up.
Obama has been a smart politician in many ways, but he needs to learn that lesson.