A growing chorus of progressives is calling on Democrats to keep their mouths shut when it comes to Rep. Anthony Weiner’s (D-NY) future — and are dismissing the Democratic calls for Weiner to step down as another sign of the timidity of the party.
It’s not so much that Weiner didn’t screw up royally, they say. It’s that they say it’s just not that big a deal, and making it into one falls into a Republican trap. And, besides, they say, as long as Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) is still walking the halls of the Capitol, why should the left be forced to lose one of its most ardent supporters?
It’s not clear how far this will develop. Defending Weiner is not something many are willing to do. But for some progressives, the response to Weiner is another sign of the Democratic party letting its left wing down.
Katie Halper is a New York comedian and progressive organizer with Living Liberally, a national left-wing group known to many for bringing together the twin elixirs of liberal politics and alcohol. Halper’s started a Facebook group aimed at convincing Weiner to stay in Congress — and convincing his fellow Democrats to keep quiet.
“If Wiener had run and won against sexting, I’d be disappointed,” Halper told TPM Thursday. “If I were Weiner’s friend, or his wife, I’d be disappointed. And I would like to think hopefully the guy I marry won’t be doing this. But in terms of Weiner the politician, I don’t really think he’s violated any of the principles that he espouses.”
Halper says Weiner can still be an effective voice in Congress, though maybe not right away. And, she says, Democrats are foolish to turn on him, as more than a few have.
“I think it’s pathetic,” Halper says. “I’m actually much more frustrated with them than I am with the Republicans who I sort of expected to go after Weiner.”
While most of cable news has focused on Weiner death watch, MSNBC host Cenk Uygur has devoted his time to defending Weiner. He told TPM the Democrats need to join him or risk handing the opposition a big win.
“Democrats never stick up for their own, and that’s why they get rolled by the Republicans on a consistent basis,” Uygur said. When the GOP has a sex scandal to deal with, he said, “eight out of ten times they rally around the flag” and protect their colleague.
Democrats turning on Weiner is “part and parcel of the correct impression that the Democratic party is weak and the Republican party is strong,” Uygur said.
The most important issue is “the macro issue,” Uygur said. While Weiner may be wounded somewhat by the revelations that he lied about sending a graphic photo to a Seattle college student, he said, “at this point there are no allegations of him doing anything illegal.”
So Democrats need to stand up, he said. For once.
“You can make an argument that this is not the best place to fight, yadda, yadda, yadda,” Uygur said. “But I’m so tired of those arguments. All they [the Democrats] ever give me is why it’s not a smart idea to ever, ever, ever, ever fight.”
Pushing Weiner out, Uygur said, would be tantamount to letting the right wing know that Democrats are only a publicized private image away from leaving the field. That would open up the floodgates.
“The Democrats will sit there and get picked off one by one,” he said.
There are signs that the most important Democrats to Weiner — those who elected him in the first place — share the progressive view. A Marist poll of his constituents released Thursday showed just 33% said he should step down, while nearly 60% said he should stay.
The irony is, progressives at the policy advocacy level never really viewed Weiner as much of an ally. Sure, he was good on TV and great at floor speeches. But when it came to organized progressive policy pushes on Capitol Hill, he was not the man they turned to. But now at least some national progressive leaders are saying Weiner and the Democrats need to stand their ground.
Allowing the Weiner scandal to end his career is “equating hypocritical Republicans with non-hypocritical Democrats,” one national progressive leader whose group is staying out of the issue formally and therefore wanted to remain nameless, said. “Republicans are morally sanctimonious, so it makes sense that they would resign.”
The leader pointed out that Bill Clinton and Eliot Spitizer survived scandals and have “both rebounded and become effective actors” for the causes they support. There’s no reason to believe that Weiner wouldn’t end up the same way.
“Wiener advocates for public option and taxing the rich,” not social issues, the leader said. So what he did “is a stupid move but not a matter of public consequence.”