Dana Milbank has a piece in todays Washington Post that largely captures my view of Weiner-gate. Bottom line: it is emblematic of a larger dynamic that has significant fiscal implications. Rather than chasing this sad little story, we might be well advised to look at the larger context.
Milbank observes that elected officials are often prone to reckless, adolescent behavior:
To amuse themselves, and to test their power, many of them take risks — a small gift, a playful remark, a bit of rhetorical excess — and, each time they get away with it, they become more convinced of their invincibility. They become thrill-seeking adolescents, taking ever-greater risks until they retire or get caught.
However, the worst manifestation of this dynamic is not the more than occasional sex scandal. Rather it is the irresponsibility exhibited in addressing (or failing to address) the major problems of our time, ranging from our two wars to entitlement reform.
Nobody gives tearful apologies for this more common form of recklessness. But if anything, these behaviors are more scandalous, because of the consequences. In the fight over the federal debt limit, for example, Republicans decided to roll the dice by declaring they would rather see the United States default than have even a dollar of new taxes. Democrats have been nearly as reckless in resisting real reforms to entitlements. And thrill seekers on both sides are content to push talks to the deadline — part of a regular game of chicken legislators have enjoyed on budget deals.
Lawmakers will have an easier time justifying that to their wives, but it’s the same delusion of invincibility that led Weiner to risk his career. In fact, we’d be better off if lawmakers gambled more with their private parts and less with the public good.
I may part ways with Milibank in the assumption that there is a clearly definable public good. But we know, at the very least, that risking fiscal meltdown and the collapse of the bond market, or forcing massive unfunded liabilities on to future generations of citizens is not consistent with the public good however conceived.
We could focus more attention on these core issues. But then again, Weiner texted salacious pictures. It is far too much fun to chase the shiny objects.