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July 24, 2013 9:02 am

Will ‘Schmekelgate’ Stop the Rise of Weiner and Spitzer?

avatar by Bernard Starr

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Anthony Weiner, who is seeking redemption by running for Mayor in New York City. Photo: Wiki Commons.

Jesus said to the crowd about to stone a woman to death for committing infidelity, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone.” Well, times have changed. It’s getting harder and harder for the sheriff even to round-up a posse willing to throw stones. For Schmekelgate, or “restless penis syndrome” (the name a 2005 “Saturday Night Live” skit gave these indiscretions), the trend toward shoulder shrugging may be less due to moral epiphanies than the telling statistics on infidelity and other sexual indiscretions — the high incidence of cheating, porno addiction, sexting, and more.

Studies on infidelity have consistently shown that men are much more inclined to stray. But recent surveys say that women are catching up. And if you were to bullhorn an announcement in front of a suburban Washington D.C., motel that the police were about to raid, you could likely watch half- dressed politicians scramble to their cars for quick getaways. Many of our political heroes of the past survived personal indiscretions by fulfilling the eleventh commandment: Thou shall not get caught. The press conspired with a tacit understanding that personal matters were untouchable. But “gotcha” journalism changed that.

1974 was a turning point. That year Congressman Wilbur Mills was stripped of his chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee after news reports detailed his drunken shenanigans with Fanne Fox, a Washington stripper known as the “Argentine Firecracker.” Soon after, Congressman Wayne Hays’ liaison with Elizabeth Ray was exposed. In aWashington Post story Ray said that she was a secretary for the House Administration Committee, headed by Hays, “despite the fact that “I can’t type, I can’t file, I can’t even answer the phone.” For both Mills and Hays the scandals ended their political careers.

After Bill Clinton’s Lewinsky affair, the public and media sentiment declared that his image was forever tarnished and many predicted he would fade into obscurity. Yet today he is one of the most respected elder statesmen. Bring up the subject of his peccadillo with anyone under age forty and you might hear, “Monica who?”

Although public forgiveness and redemption after a brief period of contrition and rehab seems the rule today, historically public condemnation was more typical.

As far back as classical Rome, the affairs of Caesar and Cleopatra and Anthony and Cleopatra were scandalous.

Even without e-mail or Twitter word got back to Rome, setting off widespread condemnation. Never mind stealing the emperor’s girlfriend, playing switch, taking seconds, or openly having children (three by Anthony and one by Caesar), what about betraying their wives and fears of giving away state secrets or territory under love’s mesmerizing aphrodisiac? The entire fabric of the Roman Empire shook from these affairs, ultimately leading to war, death, and destruction. Yet what we remember most is the romance celebrated in folklore, theater, and film.

Fast forward almost two millennia to actress Ingrid Bergman and film director Roberto Rossellini. Their 1949 love affair almost brought down their sparkling careers. RKO was financing Bergman’s film Stromboli, directed by Rossellini, and when they heard about the adulterous relationship they threatened to cut off the funding. The Motion Picture Association of America urged Bergman to “deny all rumors as soon as possible.” Otherwise, they said, her career would almost certainly be over. The press was ruthless in bashing the lovers, especially when Bergman became pregnant by Rossellini. The scandal reached the floor of the U.S. Senate. Senator Edwin C. Johnson of Colorado denounced Bergman, calling her “a free-love cultist” and “a horrible example of womanhood and a powerful influence of evil.” He added that she and Rossellini should be banned from American soil. Bergman had to wait in exile until 1972 when Senator Charles Percy of Illinois expressed regrets and invited Bergman to return to America as “a true star in every sense of the word.” The public outrage now seems prudish, especially since the affair is remembered as one of the great stylish romances.

My friend Richard Adler, who wrote the words and music to The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees, two of America’s greatest Broadway musicals, recalled in his memoirYou Gotta Have Heart, his affair with a famous actress in the 1950’s. He feared their illicit liaison would destroy both their careers. He tells about meeting British musical star Sally Ann Howes in London where he was casting for a new play. They began a romance. When they returned to the United States for Howes to star in My Fair Lady, Adler worried that his wife, from whom he was separated and in the process of divorcing, would expose the affair to the press, thus destroying Sally’s opportunity to replace Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle. He consulted his lawyer, Sidney Cohen, who laughed and said ,”You know what Shakespeare said: ‘All the world loves a lover.'” Adler left the office with Cohn’s words reverberating in his head. The tune “Everybody Loves a Lover” poured out of him. Doris Day recorded it and it swiftly climbed to number one on the charts.

Adler and Sally married but later divorced. When I attended his last wedding on the lawn of his Southampton, Long Island, summer home, I thought of all the people who could whistle many of Adler’s famous songs and remember Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday” to JFK at the gala he produced for the president–but never heard of the “scandal.”

So what does all this mean for Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer? History tells us that IF you do good deeds and CONTROL the “restless penis syndrome,” time, compassion, changing mores — and statistics — will trump Schmekelgate.

Bernard Starr is a psychologist, college professor, and journalist. He is author of “Jesus Uncensored: Restoring the Authentic Jew.” Website: click here.

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  • Michael Garfinkel

    I make no such assumption regarding “public revelations, nor have I “conveniently overlooked” that “Clinton’s indiscretions were neither glorious nor romantic.”

    Nor do I take issue with your contention that awful personal behavior is more widespread than is generally acknowledged. Certainly, the Clintons have lowered the bar in that regard.

    However, we part company in our view of Weiner, whose behavior you characterize as “odd and adolescent…as “shenanigans.”

    I am suggesting, and quite rightfully so, that obsessively taking pictures of one’s genitals for public consumption, while actively pursuing public office constitutes a whole different order of behavior.

    Frankly, “Shmeckelgate,” and similar characterizations deflect from the unpleasant reality that in Weiner we are seeing a serious patholgy playing itself out.

    • Bernard Starr

      As a psychologist I don’t diagnose or put labels on people who I have not personally and directly examined. And I recommend that others should be cautious about that as well. Although Anthony Wiener’s behavior may very well disqualify him from running for Mayor based on him embarrassing himself, his family, supporters and New York City—and raising serious issues of honesty and trust–I still would be careful about diagnostics. I recall reading that in the case of Ingrid Bergman’s affair and pregnancy, in addition to other condemnations that were made on the floor of the Senate, she was called “schizophrenic.”
      Our new age of technology and social media, which invite impulsive responses, activities, and seductions, will surely pose new challenges for mental health evaluations and diagnoses.

      • Michael Garfinkel

        The Soviets used psychiatric confinement routinely to “treat” people who presented political difficulties. That, and Ingrid Bergman’s extra-marital affair have zero to do with the issue at hand.

        Let me repeat: obsessively taking pictures of one’s genitals for public consumption, while…pursuing public office constitutes a whole different order of behavior; this is pathological behavior

        Since we are not discussing a patient in treatment, but are instead engaged in a discussion of an event of some social significance – it is hardly neceesary, nor is it appropriate to insist that one must conduct a personal examination in order to arrive at an informed opinion.

        We are living in a time of declining standards, of “defining deviancy down” as Moynihan put it, and while you seem unwilling to acknowledge the obvious, I applaud the observation that Weiner’s behavior “may very well disqualify him…to run for mayor.”

  • Michael Garfinkel

    I’m surprised that Mr. Starr is described as a psychologist, since his insight into these matters is dismal. Well, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. The term “Schmekelgate” suggests the writer intends to be a bit too cute.

    Unlike Clinton, Herbert Adler, etc., Weiner has not engaged in classic, or even serial indiscetions; rather, Weiner resembles the classic “flasher” who bears his privates from a suddenly open trenchcoat.

    Weiner’s conduct is symptomatic of a sexual pathology that is clearly accompanied by a personality disorder.

    The odious Spitzer is a more traditional cheat, yet he is beneath contempt all the same.

    Does anybody think that fact that these two men are Jewish is going unnoticed?

    • Bernard Starr

      True that Weiner’s behavior is odd and adolescent like but fact is, as far awe know thus far, his shenanigans were restricted to sexting. You conveniently overlook that Bill Clinton’s indiscretions were neither glorious nor romantic and he has eminently survived them. Fact is, based on history, if there were no more Weiner revelations—as untrustworthy as he is– he probably would survive the initial incident. Same for Spitzer,if he remains clean. It’s difficult to make exact analogies between present day and past indiscretions. For example, we know about some of JFk’s liaisons but probably don’t have a full picture because of Journalists taking a hands off posture—even more so for earlier presidential indiscretions. Now with twitter, face book, texting and cell phone records everyone has a long electronic shadow that can be uncovered. Not so in previous generations. In doing research for a book that I co-authored in the 1980’s, “Stalemates: The Truth About Extramarital Affairs,” I was astonished at the stories about prominent executives and others that I heard that never came to public awareness.That would not be the case today. Unfortunate for Weiner, he violated the “control” factor that I mention in the article. That renders uncertainty for his fate. Then look at the statistics on indiscretions keeping in mind that they are based on self-reporting—so the actual figures are undoubtedly much higher. The error in your “analysis” is that you assume that the public revelations (or the lack of them) tell the whole story.

  • Joel

    To err is human . . . but these guys are seeking control
    of public funds. That’s chutzpah of psychotic proportions.

  • la Demain

    Huma-Huma wants a mosque and daddy Weiner if elected will build one for her most likely atop the World Trade Center. Once the Weiner is in don’t count on Huma to pull him out. She’ll rule through him. We just hope the sensible Jews of NY have had a snout-full of those who are desperate to prove their Jewish Wonderfulness by electing this
    Weenie-dog and his Muslim wife with all her compromising connections. Then ol’ Hill and her wandering Bill will give marching orders to Huma and the Soddy’s will pour more $ into the prezzie library and Huma’s new mosque. Maybe a book contract, too. A la Gingrich. Seriously folks, we do hope NY voters will get some sense and drive this couple out of politics. They’ve fed at the trough far too long as it is.

    • Elliot J. Stamler

      The above abominable comment from this disgusting person “la Demain: vilifying Mrs. Weiner, Sec. Clinton and Pres. Clinton is another perfect example of why conservative Republicans including Jewish ones, are the lowest and most contemptible people imaginable.

      • la Demain

        Well, Mr. Stamler, I want U to know that unlike you I am not going to make any speculations or assumptions about your religious faith or your political party, if any. I do want U to find yourself a book store that still sells an unexpurgated text of the Qu’ran and while you’re at it get yourself a copy of the US Constitution and Bill of Rights and then after you read both, return here and tell us how they are compatible. Moreover, after your review of our Bill of Rights, particularly the First Amendment that guarantees freedom of thought and speech, explain to us how the immediate arrest and jailing of the US citizen and uploader of a year-old Youtube video that BHO’s mouth piece falsely–and repeatedly–informed the public (and a global audience) was responsible for the Islamic attack and murder of US citizens in Benghazi, didn’t violate his freedom of expression and speech. Since when does “offending Muslims” justify or entitle them to engage in their rampage and slaughter? Huma’s parents are reportedly tied to the Muslim Brotherhood that is in turn tied to al Q and while I would not expect Huma to disavow her parents, if this woman hopes for a future in US politics, I would expect her to disavow Sharia and every entity that espouses it. As for Bill Clinton: his failure to keep his cigar in his humidor is a nothing as compared to his failure to veto the recision of both the Glass-Steagall Act and the Telecommunication Act. There U have it and tuff noogies if you don’t like this message.