Sunday, June 19, 2011

Peggy Noonan on Anthony Weiner: posting sexually suggestive pictures is worse than bribery and real (illicit) sex

Here's how she put it in the Wall Street Journal.
Sometimes all of Washington has to put up its hand up like a traffic cop and say no. It has to say: That doesn't go here, it's not acceptable, it's not among the normal human transgressions of back stairs, love affairs and the congressman on the take. This is decadence. It is pornography. We can't let the world, and the young, know it's "politically survivable." Because that will hurt us, not him, and define us, not him. So: enough.
Think about that. Noonan says that sending off-color pictures—apparently not even pornographic—is less acceptable than "the normal human transgressions of back stairs, love affairs and the congressman on the take." Why is that? I'd much rather have a Congress full of Anthony Weiners than one full of "congressman on the take." Why is what Weiner did so much more uncomfortable for people than "the normal human transgressions of back stairs [and] love affairs"?

I think the answer is that what Weiner did revealed an inner yearning on his part that these other activities no longer do. When we hear of a congressman (or governor or other public figure) who has had a culturally illicit sexual encounter, we no longer think about the person's internal state. We have grown so accustomed to such affairs that we are able to put them into the "illicit sex" box and don't allow ourselves to think about the inner desires that brought them on. In Weiner's case, we don't have such a convenient box in which to put his actions. We are forced to think about what he must have been feeling when he sent those pictures. And we are not comfortable with thinking about people experiencing desire.

A couple of years about Daniel Bergner published The Other Side of Desire. In it he explores the lives of four people with what we would consider fetishes, perhaps perversions. A story about him begins like this.
In a series of four stories, Bergner grants us entree into dark worlds of extreme lust and longing: there is the foot fetishist wracked by shame, the dominatrix so turned on by inflicting pain on others that she once roasted a man on a spit, and the stepfather capsized by lust for his 12-year-old stepdaughter. There is even a love story involving amputee fetish. But what's remarkable about Bergner's book is not the way these tales shock or confound or titillate (though they do those things sometimes), but how sympathetic their plights and hungers become. Bergner … is a keen storyteller but above all a humane one, and in his hands, these characters do not seem like freaks so much as shadows of ourselves.
We all have internal desires, and many of us are afraid to talk about them, even to acknowledge that they exist. When someone has his inner desires made public, to avoid acknowledging our own (often hidden) desires we resort to calling the person a pervert, as if no one by a freak could feel the way he apparently does.

This sort of reaction seems to be particularly Republican. Peggy Noonan's piece is a good example. Sending sexually suggestive picture over the internet as worse than bribery or actual affairs? Noonan, like so many of her conservative colleagues seems unable to look at the broad range of human desire and emotion and acknowledge that it exists.

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