I started this blog - purely by chance - as the sudden scandal and resignation of Mark Foley unfolded. You remember Mark Foley, right? Congressional pages? Male pages?
America is a nation with a curious culture when it comes to sex. It's about puritanism, and guilt, and voyeurism, and capitalism, and it screws with our heads, ruins our public discourse, and fascinates us, all at once. We are the nation that the French think of as uptight prudes, and the ones with enough experience and sense to arrest Dominique Strauss-Khan rather than look the other way. We are the nation of some of the most virulent antigay bigots and the largest gay pride parade in the world.
In short, girl, we are a hot mess of a nation when it comes to sex.
Some people say it's Republicans who can't handle allegations of sex and scandal in their public officials. I tend to disagree - I don't think they like it (and I do mean sex), but I think they know how to handle it. Democrats, on the other hand, like to think we can "handle it", but I think part of the lefty charm is actually that Democrats are often deliberately, sweetly naive. We don't have any idea what to do with affairs and sexting and fetishes and so much more (SO much more), because, every time, it all just seems so new and unexpected. Arnold Schwarzenegger cheated on Maria Shriver? Bill Clinton let an intern flash her panties? Anthony Weiner sent some girl a picture of his hardon?
It's not that liberalism is somehow equivalent to "no moral compass"; it's just that, well, we need a minute to put the new data into some sort of perpective. This can often be labeled "overthinking it."
Democrats like to say we "handle sex scandals differently" - than those uptight, prudish Republicans - but really, we don't "handle" them at all; and in that, I think, we reflect, more fully, the national muddle when it comes to sex and acting out sexually: mostly we'd rather not know... and when we have to know, it's mostly how can we make this go away, and quickly. It would be a much better story, really, if the liberal view of sex were, in fact, demonstrably liberal: that we felt people should talk, freely and openly about sex and sexuality; that the free expression of love and desire among people is perfectly natural and understandable; that what we deplore is sexual acting out that involves force, coercion and lack of consent.
We don't do that. But liberals like to pretend, often, that we do.
Anthony Weiner's place in our odd discussion of sexuality is not new; his song and dance about "I couldn't possibly have sent some girl a picture of my hardon that accidentally wound up going out over the internet to everyone on my twitter feed" is not new and didn't seem true pretty much the minute he said it. He lies badly. And hypocrisy, really, is the standard for American scandal that can't really be overcome.
There will be a lot of "I can't judge Anthony Weiner" comments from lefties, which isn't really true, either (Rachel Maddow's take on the scnadal was a good barometer, really, of how to deftly manage the "I'm not judging" while reveling in every tacky seamy moment of his fall). Of course we judge. Of course we look. Of course we stare. That's what we do. That - the staring part, the quietly judging part - is who we are as a nation. Voyeurs, who think it's rude to stare, but would often pay extra for the privilge of staring longer.
Whether Anhony Weiner stays in Congress or resigns in disgrace - or some other yet to be seen scenario unfolds - doesn't really fascinate me (I'd love to say the naughty pictures don't fascinate me... but pictures of boys on the internet are life's little joy, these days). What fascinates me about this "scandal" is what makes it "scandalous" - a notion about sex as dirty and hidden and shameful and naughty that we can't, as a culture, seem to shake. And our choice, really, is to adopt, as conservatives already do, a kind of rigid, inflexible standard for behavior that's often unrealistic and needlessly cruel, or adopt a kind of senseless, messy "anything goes" notion of permissiveness that creates as many or more problems than it solves.
Or we could, painfully and mostly haltingly, try to continue a national process of growing up, of treating sex and sexuality more openly, a little more honestly, and with some sensitivity and humanity. That kind of approach might, in the end, help us to separate what's not so important in this case - the fact, say, that he was aroused - from what might be kind of inappropriate - sending unwanted, highly sexually charged messages to people we find attractive.
I mean it's just a thought. And it seems like a waste of time... but that's what it's all about.