So Anthony Weiner–he’s a bad joke, right? He should obviously drop out of the NY mayoral race, right?
As a mental health professional, I just want to say: Not so fast.
Now, am I saying that he SHOULD stay in the race? That he WOULD make a good leader? Not so fast there either.
But allow me to play devil’s advocate for a moment…
Anthony Weiner is clearly suffering from a mental health issue, and I don’t want that to automatically disqualify anyone from running for public office. I don’t like what that would say about our country, or what it would mean for others who have mental health and/or addiction issues.
I don’t know precisely what the mental health issue is. A good solid guess is sexual addiction/compulsion. Because this is a man with a wife who’s stood by him, a new baby, and a second chance in politics–yet he couldn’t control himself.
That is one of the major criteria of an addiction disorder. It causes huge impairment and threatens the loss of everything you hold dear, and yet you keep risking it.
Another hallmark of addiction is denial. And a third is lying to cover up your actions. Weiner has exhibited all of these.
Of course, there could be an alternate (or supplemental) mental health issue: narcissistic personality disorder. That’s a definite contender, given what he’s put his wife through and his willingness to mount a campaign knowing he still has more dirty laundry. The hubris and the entitlement seem in evidence.
But does that necessarily mean he’s a bad leader? I would argue that there have been many philanderers in office. There are people who cheat on their wives but don’t cheat on the country. Some people are more steadfast to their country than they are to those closest to them.
It is not a given that people who are unethical in one area are unethical in all areas. It’s not a given that people who treat their intimates poorly are poor at governing. Bill Clinton seems like almost too obvious of an example.
Now, many pundits are saying, “Anthony Weiner is no Bill Clinton.” That may be true. But that’s not really why people are calling for him to quit the race.
As many pundits also say, “It’s not the scandal, it’s the cover-up.” I wish Anthony Weiner had come out and admitted that he had a relapse. I wish he admitted that he has an addiction for which he will need ongoing treatment, possibly for the rest of his life. That’s what recovery is. And I’m not sure he’s admitted it to himself, let alone to NYC and the nation.
Instead, he stood in the press conference after he got caught (again) and said, essentially, “Yes, I did it (again), but it’s all behind me. I’m done with all my treatment and therapy, and I’ll never do it again.” No one believes that, especially if he sees his recovery as complete.
This could have been an opportunity to speak out about an addiction that many have but are ashamed to admit. Properly treated, people with addictions are fit to be in positions of power. Weiner could have told us why he’s one of them. That would have shown bravery, which is certainly a quality of good leadership. It could have also shown his solidarity with others who are struggling. Giving them a voice could show empathy–another good quality.
And Americans love a redemption narrative. On Snapchat, 150 million (presumably dirty) pictures are sent a day (and disappear in 10 seconds–perhaps Carlos Danger should have used Snapchat.) What I mean is, sexting is not so foreign to many of us.
What we don’t like is a cover-up.
Weiner’s failure to do any of this–to acknowledge his weakness and that it is an ongoing struggle, to explain how he will be able to manage this and still effectively run a local government–probably goes to my second diagnosis of narcissism. He still thinks he can put one over on us. Or maybe he’s putting one over on himself, wanting desperately to believe that his problems are behind him.
Self-awareness is an ingredient in good leadership. Weiner, sadly, does not seem to possess it.
But he’s still in the race, so who knows. He could show us all.
(Hey, get your minds out of the gutter.)
Anthony Weiner image available from Shutterstock.