Anatomy of Congressional Narcissism
Our bloated governments lead public officials to hubris, which leads to scandal.


Victor Davis Hanson

Former congressman Anthony Weiner, who has now resigned in disgrace, took, and then transmitted, various photos of himself — either posing and flexing in gym attire, pointing to his private parts, smiling in various states of undress and sexual arousal, or in combinations of these themes.

Americans find this bizarre, largely because the vast majority of American males, at least above the age of 25, not only have not taken sexually explicit photos of themselves (much less sent them to near strangers), but have not taken any self-portraits whatsoever. Apparently Mr. Weiner believed that his position as a relatively high-profile congressman made, literally, all of him of interest to almost anyone. Someone somehow had apparently convinced the rather geeky Mr. Weiner that he was quite attractive, to the point that he assumed others would wish to join such a Narcissus in fixating at the pool of his own rather sad reflection.

Former senator and vice-presidential candidate John Edwards is terribly angry at his mistress, Rielle Hunter. She apparently, with his consent, used her film-producing expertise to make explicit tapes of the two naked and in flagrante delicto in an Indianapolis hotel room — and then carelessly lost possession of the tapes. (So much for eternal infatuation.) The details of their scripted sexual congress are of no interest; but the motivation for it is in a way.

John Edwards was once acclaimed a savvy trial lawyer, and as a high-profile politician he knew that he had to either lead an exemplary life, or ensure that there were no hard data showing that he had not. Yet he chose to put his cheap adultery on tape, and now is facing not only the specter of a prison sentence for alleged campaign-finance irregularities, but also the possible tawdriness of having his private moments ricocheted around the Internet. I say “possible” not in the sense that it might not  happen, but, given the Weiner exemplar, in the sense that Edwards might not find it so tawdry.

Still, why did he do such a thing? Did his narcissism trump his political sense to the extent that he was willing to ruin his political career, humiliate his cancer-stricken wife, destroy his family unity, and even risk “John’s room” in his palatial estate for the occasional titillation of watching himself commit sex again and again, thanks to the rewind button (perhaps with friends over, as for the Super Bowl, with popcorn and beer?).

We can easily find multiple examples of these symptoms of political narcissism: The late Sen. Robert Byrd, in Josef Stalin or Saddam Hussein fashion, plastering his name and image over all sorts of West Virginia public-works projects, many of them unneeded and funded at the expense of far more important investments. Do we remember the former speaker of the House, Jim Wright, publishing a book, Reflections of a Public Man, that no one in his right mind would wish to read and then distributing it through bulk purchases using campaign funds and donations? And back in the Petronian sphere, did Rep. Mark Foley (who lectured gays on traditional morality) really believe that he had the right to inquire, in dirty-old-man fashion, about the coming-of-age sexuality of teenage boys? Did Sen. Larry Craig (who lectured Clinton on being “naughty”) think it appropriate to cruise for raunchy homosexual sex in public restrooms? How about Gov. Eliot Spitzer (who lectured Wall Street on being excessive and self-indulgent) frequenting young prostitutes?

The list of the near-unbelievable is nearly endless, and it raises an interesting question: Do narcissists gravitate to political office, or does the insular, Versailles-like nature of a Washington, an Albany, or a Sacramento turn normal men into narcissists?