A public forgiveness line forms in NYC

It should be interesting, when historians get to assessing the presidency of Bill Clinton, to see how much of any down side of Clinton’s time in office is ascribed to the Monica Lewinsky affair. We keep hearing now of the strong favorability rating Clinton registers – that he has had a ranking as the country’s most popular political figure. From which one might deduce that, if historical review comes to reflect these relatively early post-presidential Clinton years, the Lewinsky bit won’t count for a whole lot. So, who knows, maybe such plot resolution has something to do with some of the steamier episodes contributing to political theater in the city these days.

Two players whose appetite for walking on the wild (kinky) side got them involuntary exits from the political stage have rejoined the fray, asking the public’s forgiveness and the chance to start afresh. Former Congressman Anthony Weiner evidently concluded that a two-year withdrawal from the line of fire was a quite sufficient period of atonement after those racy photos he was fond of posting became a cause célèbre. Weiner wants to be the city’s next mayor. Eliot Spitzer, who might still be governor, had his call girl fetish not come to light, opted for a five-year hiatus before asking the public’s blessing a few days ago for another shot at public office, taking aim on the city comptroller’s job

It’s all about perception, some might say. After the Clinton stuff broke and proceeded to command the national political spotlight for what must have been an eternity for the president, some voices chiming in from Europe confessed to being dumbstruck by all this American uproar over what they considered walk-in-the-park routine for what frames the political dynamic across the way. On our own turf, there were those who remained resolutely determined that impeaching the president was the only course to be followed. This, despite even some influential Republicans counseling otherwise. All of which is to question the rush-to-judgment syndrome that more often than not attends these episodes.

Incredible as it seems, being dared to “cast the first stone” if without sin is normally no deterrent at all for some folk. There are times, of course, when the chagrined wrong-doer faces odds that just may prove too long to overcome. Ted Kennedy comes to mind, whose White House aspirations were probably forever dashed with the awful business at Chappaquidick resulting in that young woman’s death. Ditto, former Senator Gary Hart, running for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988, who foolishly dared the media to provide proof of alleged extra-marital carrying-on …which the media promptly did.

So, does getting caught remain the once and forever game changer, or have we moved into some new “maturity” on this sexual mores front? We’ve been fed morsels about some prior occupants of the White House which made clear that dalliances were no stranger to the office. That nothing even remotely close to the firestorm around Clinton ever previously materialized had largely to do with the institution that was “the press” in earlier years and the respectful distance accorded the presidency as well as other high office. With today’s media – both formal and the flinty stuff that purports to be such – there is of course no quarter given.

Our developing New York City tableau, befitting the Big Apple perhaps, already is hinting at carving a unique path. No sooner was he in the mayoral race than Weiner’s polling numbers showed him positioned at the front of the field. Because of the number of contenders, though, using Weiner’s or anyone else’s numbers to make a definitive read is premature and fraught with risk. As the inevitable shakeout proceeds, we should be better able to determine whether sentiment for giving the guy a pass is robust or not a whole lot better than the support he’s registering in the crowded field. And one perhaps shouldn’t exclude from consideration the timing factor — whether Weiner is being a bit too hubristic in presenting himself for public approbation a mere two years after he disgraced himself and the office he held. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, when Weiner announced his comeback, that the man has every right to run, but if we elect him, “shame on us.”

As for the other New Yorker back in the ring, he has at least allowed for a respectable “pardon period” before making his plea and pledge to voters. Spitzer’s tenure as the state’s attorney general, where he came off as such a fearless standup guy for the people—including his determination to not let the big guns of Wall Street ignore obligations he insisted they had – was indicative of a dedication to public service that is quite rare. Given which, the revelations from the land of kinky that forced his resignation from the governorship seemed more apropos as “Twilight Zone” material than real-life political drama.

Whether New Yorkers will re-embrace these two otherwise solidly performing public servants whose trains ran off the rails we will in due course get to know. The country at large seems to have given a pass to the president whose “stepping out”, in a manner of speaking, became instant world news fodder some years ago. Clinton has since become a New York guy too, come to think of it. That may be a good omen for Weiner and Spitzer.

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