After dragging out the tragic drama, Anthony Weiner finally decided to resign his position. This puts him in stark contrast with fellow New Yorker Chris Lee. After his shirtless-photo-Craigslist scandal, Lee promptly resigned.
Weiner’s career-ending injury was, of course, self-inflicted. As I have said before, the fatal blow was not his virtual infidelity. It was, of course, his decision to launch a prolonged campaign of deceit. If he had simply admitted to his behavior, then he would have been regarded as creepy but he might have not have been pushed to resign. Without the attempted cover up, the bump in his briefs would have probably been a brief bump in his career.
It might be argued that his virtual misdeed would be sufficient grounds for his resignation. After all, Chris Lee resigned after attempting to have an affair. This does have a certain appeal. After all, a member of congress is supposed to serve the interests of his district and he cannot do his job properly if he is caught up in a scandal. This does have considerable appeal. To use an analogy, many jobs (including my own) restrict the outside employment that an employee can undertake. The reason is, of course, that outside employment can interfere with the primary job. While being caught up in a scandal is not a job, it can have the same effect by consuming far too much time and focus. Of course, if the person is able to keep the scandal from impacting his duties, then this argument would fail in that case.
It can also be argued that members of congress who cannot keep their own members under control are unfit for office. This falls under the general question of what sort of unethical behavior (or violation of social norms) would be grounds for expecting a member of congress to resign.
One obvious answer is to refer to the rules specified by congress. As with any job, there are conditions of employment and these set the limits of allowed behavior. Provided that these limits are not violated, then there would seem to be a lack of justification to expect a resignation-even when the person behaves in ways that are regarded as inappropriate or even unethical. For example, a university professor cannot be fired merely for having an affair. Naturally, having an affair with a co-worker or student could be grounds for dismissal, but not because it is an affair.
Naturally enough, if a resignation is expected, this often means that there are not actual grounds for kicking the person out As far as I know, inappropriate (but not illegal) sexual behavior is not grounds for being given the boot from congress. Lying, except for the obvious case of doing so under oath, also does not seem to be against the rules. If it were, then the House and Senate would be rather empty.
Obviously enough, people are sometimes expected to resign even when they have not actually violated the rules. In the case of politicians, this seems to most often happen in cases involving sex. This, not surprisingly, reflects America’s rather unhealthy obsessions regarding sex.
It can be argued that politicians who are involved in sex scandals that do not break the relevant rules should still be pushed to resign. This could be done on ethical grounds. While we tend to regard politicians as an unethical lot, we still expect them to behave in ways we consider appropriate when it comes to sex and regard such violations as unethical. A rather appealing argument is that if a married politician will betray his wife, then he cannot be trusted and hence should leave office.
An obvious reply is that as long as the politician has not actually acted in ways that are relevant to his job, then his betrayal of his wife is not relevant. After all, a man can be relentlessly unfaithful to his wife and still be very competent and capable in his job.
Another appealing argument is that if a politician is engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior and has tried to conceal it, then it would seem reasonable to suspect that he might be up to other misdeeds and concealing them. The obvious reply is that such behavior (provided that it does not cross over into the criminal realm) is not actually relevant to job performance and the person’s competence. After all, I suspect that most married men are involved in some degree of what would be considered inappropriate behavior, yet they are able to function in their jobs.
In Weiner’s case, his resignation does seem to be the right thing to do. The scandal has reduced his ability to represent his district and he has shown that he has rather serious flaws in regards to ethics and judgment. He should, of course, have the chance to redeem himself. However, he needs to do this on his own time.