It was a meaningful coincidence that Rep. Anthony Weiner confessed his Twittergressions on the same day that Sen. Rick Santorum launched his bid for the presidency. Weiner, a political champion for the rights of the working class and equal economic opportunity for all Americans, came out with his pants down moments after Santorum, who built his career as a self-righteousness social conservative, promised a nation worried about their actual balance sheets that he will worry about our “moral currency”.
I think Weiner behaved abominably and should immediately resign from office. He has not only tarnished his own reputation but the reputation of the many good causes for which he has stood. His presence in the political arena, once a welcome beacon for justice and fairness, will now be an unwelcome distraction. And frankly, we all know that progressives would be chomping at the bit demanding Weiner be tarred and feathered if he’d been a Republican. We owe it to ourselves and our nation to not let our moral compass be swayed because Weiner is a liberal.
Still, don’t we have better things to talk about? Yes, Weinergate a bonifide scandal (no pun intended). But unemployment is still painfully high, the economic recovery is anemic at best, and Republicans and Democrats are debating billions in cuts to government spending that by many accounts will make this all worse. This would be a moment to turn our national attention to the Paul Krugmans and even Bruce Bartletts of the world — reasonable voices on economic issues. But instead, politicians like Santorum and Michelle Bachmann are filling the political vacuum doing what the Right wing has learned to do best, using social wedges to distract and divide. Americans who would, in fact, all tremendously benefit from policies to bring greater taxation and regulation to Wall St. in exchange for more spending that helps the middle class are pit against each other across a manufactured chasm of social difference. In the story of our nation according to Santorum, Bachmann and others, the enemies of white working class families in middle America aren’t greedy corporate agribusiness executives destroying family farms or deregulated banking honchos foreclosing on homesteads left and right. No, the enemies are gay people and immigrants and women who get abortions. Yes, that’s why unemployment is so high even though corporate profits and executive pay are at all-time record levels.
Social issue politics is offensive and divisive but, nonetheless, highly effective — playing to the same emotional and gossipy soul of America that, for instance, explains why US Magazine has more subscribers than Newsweek. Anyone on the left who condescendingly wonders why voters play into the moralizing mythology of candidates like Santorum need only look at our own obsession with Weiner over the last few days to understand. Yet at the same time, any candidate on the right who thinks that pelting voters with rocks of social divisiveness will somehow blind them to the obvious economic inequities that right wing candidates (intentionally or unintentionally) serve to protect face a rude awakening. Sure, voters are enjoying the gossip about Weiner. But when it comes time to vote, this year they will resoundingly and uniformly care about the economy, stupid.
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