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Weiner is no Patrick Kennedy, nor should he try to be like him

Froma Harrop

Froma Harrop

Sunday’s Tony Awards program reminds us that new media didn’t invent the egotist who doesn’t know when to exit. Live theater is millennia old, and one awardee hogged so much time offering “thanks” that his co-winner couldn’t say a word. Other Broadway stars continued tearful emoting long after the orchestra started playing the time’s-up theme.

As you read this, New York Rep. Anthony Weiner may have given up his congressional seat, or he may not have. When House Democrats talk of booting you out of their caucus, one thing is clear: Time’s up. The curtain’s coming down. The cold object you feel around your neck is a hook.

Sadly, Weiner hasn’t shown the judgment to walk off the stage when doing so would be good for his country, his party, his constituents and even himself. Call sending lewd pictures to women narcissism, mental illness, stupidity or all the above. What marks Weiner’s behavior — and that of other congressmen (and I can use the male term here) caught in similar sexual indiscretions — is this gigantic sense of entitlement. A big mouth often comes with the package. We see it in Washington. We see it in business and sports.

Even those of us who generally agreed with Weiner’s worldview would wince at his bully-boy presentations and difficulty in playing with others. That’s why his support among Democrats collapsed at the very beginning of the scandal. Back then, the evidence of bizarre behavior may have been containable. It could have been rationalized as a temporary loss of sanity.

So Weiner refuses to begin his redemption himself by resigning. His spokeswoman said he was planning to take “a short leave of absence” from Congress “to seek professional treatment to focus on becoming a better husband and healthier person.” Touching, but what’s in it for the voters of Brooklyn and Queens? I’ll buy that he’s not well, that he needs psychiatric care. In the meantime, the electorate deserves representation in Washington.

For guidance, Weiner’s allies point to the example of former Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy, who took a temporary leave from Congress to seek treatment for his addiction to prescription drugs. But that was an example of why such actions are ill-advised. For nine months, Kennedy’s Rhode Island constituents had no representative in Washington.

Here, too, was an oversized sense of entitlement, multiplied by the Kennedy factor. (Patrick is the late Sen. Edward Kennedy’s son.) But from the get-go, Patrick was obviously unsuited for the job.

As in Weiner’s case, inappropriate behavior was not confined to an isolated incident. Having long suffered alcohol and drug addictions plus bipolar mental disorder, Kennedy did one weird thing after another. In 2000, he angrily pushed a female security guard at Los Angeles International Airport. Also that year, the Coast Guard was called to stop an argument he was having with a woman on a yacht. In 2006, an obviously disoriented Kennedy drove a Ford Mustang into a security barrier on Capitol Hill in the wee hours. He subsequently checked into a drugrehabilitation facility at the Mayo Clinic for a month.

Three years later, he checked into another facility, announcing, “I have decided to temporarily step away from my normal routine to ensure that I am being as vigilant as possible in my recovery.” He chose not to run again in 2010 and has since found a useful political afterlife working for health-care reform. He’s now engaged to a New Jersey schoolteacher. Unlike Weiner, Kennedy usually came off as a nice kid, perhaps because his conduct was so obviously the product of mental imbalance.

Anthony Weiner, you’re no Patrick Kennedy. Nor should you try to be. ©2011 The Providence Journal Co.

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