Anthony Weiner betrayed the voters of his district when he resigned from Congress. While the sexting scandal may have been personally embarrassing, the women were all old enough to consent and all of them did so. There was nothing legally standing in the way of his completing his two year term and he should have done so. If anything, he should have just gotten off of the permanent election cycle carousel. That act alone would have made him a better representative since he would no longer be beholden to the money machine.
In his speech announcing his resignation from Congress, Weiner described his constituents as being hard-working, patriotic, opinionated and authentic. Apparently, the last trait was not one he shared with them. Instead of apologizing for “personal mistakes,” he should have been telling the press and his opponents that these texts were none of their business. Others might not understand his behavior, but he should not have been asking for their approval.
Weiner could have atoned for his previous failure of not owning up to his actions by starting up his current mayoral run with a declaration that his sex life was private and the subject would, therefore, be off the table. Given that he had continued to engage in sexting after his resignation, this action would have also been politically prudent. Instead, he wandered back into Bill Clinton territory with answers that sounded like denials but in retrospect left some wiggle room for blurring the truth. To me these excuses, not the new revelations, are what makes him ineligible to serve as a public official.
When it comes to parts of his past, President Obama is one step above Weiner. Unlike Clinton, at least Obama fessed up to inhaling. While Bush “skillfully evaded ‘the cocaine question,’” Obama admitted his prior use of “a little blow.” While his honesty is commendable, he does not go far enough as the policies he supports do not reflect his past actions.
Despite Nancy Reagan's most dire warnings, a failure to “just say no” will not automatically doom a person’s future prospects or affect the ability to reach the highest office in the land. That is assuming that you do not get caught.
As of 2011, 330,000 people were imprisoned in the United States for drug offenses of which 95,000 were federal inmates. Those convicted of drug and sexual offenses are specifically singled out for reducing their eligibility for student loans. Federal Minimum Sentencing laws can require judges to send someone to jail for life even without a history of violence or when a probation report specifies “there is no specifically identifiable victim.”
For African-Americans the narrative is even worse. They “comprise 14 percent of regular drug users but are 37 percent of those arrested for drug offenses.” While crack and powder cocaine are derivatives of the same drug, those convicted of offenses related to crack, 85% of whom are black, are given sentences that are statutorily 18 times as long. Black women are no more likely to use drugs during pregnancy, but are ten times as likely to be reported to the authorities for doing so.
Obama’s willingness to be honest about his past drug use put him in a unique position to update our country’s drug policies. He certainly understands that drug use does not automatically equal drug abuse. If he is intellectually honest, he should also understand the role that luck played in him not getting caught and how had this been different the trajectory of his life would have changed. Owning up to his past requires working to change the present.
The Executive Branch’s responsibility under the Constitution is to enforce the laws and this is where Obama has discretion, but so far has not always used it to end the war on drug users. For example, he could have respected the will of the voters in states that have approved medical marijuana and looked the other way at an industry allowed by state law but still banned by the federal government. Instead, he allowed the rate of these raids to increase.
This failure to own up to his actions has left the President open to attacks from both sides. The left condemns him for hypocrisy and the right, especially the far, conspiratorial right, uses his past actions as proof of an alternative reality where the President is still using drugs. Sometimes it
is paired with a complaint that the press has not done enough to investigate the issue, even when the accuser could not pass a polygraph test. In other instances, it is combined with other scandals as in “Barack Obama Was High on Cocaine During ‘The Missing Hours’ of the Benghazi Attack Last September.”
Attacks from the fringe are certainly not a new occurrence. Some also accused President Bush of using drugs in the White House. The difference today is that the Republican party has made an artform out of distancing itself from these types of accusations while still giving a wink and a nod to the believers. This is particularly true with the birther movement.
When Republican Congresswoman Martha Roby was asked a question that substituted Obama with “this foreign-born, America-hating communist despot,” she had an opportunity to take a stand against ignorance. She could have responded that “He is the president of the United States, and he deserves some respect.” Alternatively, she could have explained that Hawaii is part of the United States. Instead, she laughed it off and talked about congressional oversight.
Like Weiner and Obama, the Republicans cannot have it both ways. However, they have a choice. They can either fully embrace the beliefs of the birther wing of their party or they can repudiate them once and for all. Only one of those choices gives them the chance of stopping their slide towards irrelevance as a nationwide party.