Last Friday, I rented Weiner on iTunes. Because it is a documentary, I’ll confess, I had been looking forward to seeing it thinking that it would be a fun bit of mockery about a guy who deserves to be mocked.
Instead, it was a window into running a campaign and a sympathetic portrayal of a candidate who hoped to rise out of the ashes like a phoenix to live another day.
In 2013, Weiner threw his hat into the ring for New York City’s mayor. It was supposed to be his comeback. I’ll admit, I didn’t know anything about Weiner except that he was married to Huma Abedin, had at one point been considered a rising star in the Democratic Party because of his smarts, and that he had been the source of his own undoing.
Weiner as a mayoral candidate was a man who really wanted to be in public service to help people, to make government accountable, to make government serve the public in New York City—to be the champion of the middle class in a city dominated by obscene wealth. His passion was evident, even if at the same time it demonstrated the hubris and narcissism that frankly anyone running for office needs to have. Equally clear, Weiner craved the adulation of people. The scenes where he led a gay pride parade down a city street, waving a giant rainbow flag, so happy to be there. Still though, a striking image. Homophobia may be on the wane in the United States, but it is still there, making this image of Weiner arresting, while simultaneously sending an important message; it was akin to when England’s Princess Diana was willing to touch AIDS victims showing the world that it was ok to do so.
The campaign started off with nothing but hope. The empty rented room with only a fold out table, one chair, and one phone. The slow build-up of staffers and volunteers. The endless phone calls the volunteers were making on behalf of a candidate in whom they believed. Abedin willing to be in TV commercials, speak at events, and make phone calls to her extensive network to solicit donations, to be out in front instead of her usual place behind the scenes. This is the nitty-gritty of campaigning for public office, and something the media usually glosses over in election years (except to say things like Trump has no campaign infrastructure without really explaining what “infrastructure” is).
There were moments in the film, however, that gave pause. When filming a TV commercial where Wiener and Abedin sat on a townhouse front stoop, shoulder to shoulder—when it was Abedin’s turn to speak, and she was lauding her husband as the best thing for New York City, the entire time she also was shaking her head back and forth like we do when we shake our heads to say “no.” The bickering between the couple. The distress and anger Abedin showed when post-election she and Weiner had to make plans to avoid a run-in with Sydney Leathers, one of Weiner’s newly revealed sexting partners from his first downfall from grace (and showing that he had lied about the event before).
And then there were moments of strength such as debates with the other candidates where Weiner took down the other candidates in a Trump-like way. Or when he was willing to argue with a bystander to defend himself. It’s too bad the film skipped over Weiner’s politics because he was a guy of interesting, well-articulated ideas whether or not you agreed, or skew left or right in your own politics. For example, other articles about Weiner in light of the movie noted his plan “Keys to the City: 64 ideas to keep New York the capital of the middle class.” While you can challenge the policy ideas, the ethos is hard to argue with.
Alas, his campaign was derailed by reports of other sexting partners from the past. Carlos Danger and Sydney Leathers—who thinks up these names? This was too much for everyone, too unmayoral in behavior, and unsurprisingly Weiner came in dead last on election day.
And then, three days after I watched this film, the news hit. He was still at it. The sexting. How foolish. How willfully self-destructive.
People show you who they are; watch their actions, not their words. Past behavior truly is predictive of future behavior. Weiner’s behavior is proof. Once might be an error in judgement, but two begins a pattern, and three is definitely a pattern. That is a point worth remembering when evaluating candidates in this election year.