In a column about Anthony Weiner, Michael Brendan Dougherty asks a question about people’s reaction to him.
Somewhere out there, you know or are related to someone who wrecked his life with debt, food, sex, drugs, or booze. His life came apart. He may have lost the love and respect of his closest family members. His faults may have even brought him to to the point of death. What happened? Friends intervened. The troubled person in question publicly detested his faults and promised to do better. He spent time talking about the obvious improvements in his life since giving up the old way of living.
And then a few weeks, months, or years later, the recidivist phone call comes. “Again!?”
So why do we feign surprise with Anthony Weiner?
I don’t know that we are all that surprised about Weiner, or that we’re even feigning much surprise. Dougherty’s exclamation point in that passage also suggests that maybe we are a little surprised when other people backslide. But it’s certainly true that Weiner gets less sympathy than other people do. I’d suggest that difference has a simple cause: What Weiner keeps doing still strikes a lot of people as weird. Most of us don’t know anyone who has wrecked his life over sexting. Most of us can imagine how someone could wreck his life over gambling or sex; compulsive sexting is more alien to us.
If our reaction to someone else in this situation in the future is more sympathetic, it probably won’t be because we have become more understanding of unusual vices, but because this behavior will have become less unusual.