Earlier this week I went to see the "Weiner" documentary. I'm still trying to figure out what I think of it - I wish there'd been more insight into Weiner as a person (besides the scandals) and as a politician (besides the fact that he was fighting for the lower middle class - what were the specific ideas he had for New York City?), but mostly I came out of it with profound sadness for the young or not so young staffers who went into the campaign to make a difference and had their hopes crushed. The movie itself was made by Weiner former chief of staff Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg.
My point is about more than feeling sorry for college students' idealism that was wasted on the candidate, although some testimonials, filmed before the second scandal, just wrung my heart, especially the one by the young male whose mother didn't want him to work for Weiner. People comfortable in the "aide" mode need to find a candidate who can help them deploy their talents in order for them to fulfill their potential, and while for many taking part in a campaign will simply be an interesting experience to put on their resume before they apply for law school, one has to wonder how much talent got wasted because smart and talented twenty-somethings bet on the wrong horse.
This is also of course the challenge facing Huma Abedin, about whom much good had been written because of her status as long-time aide to Hillary Clinton (and some bad - I mention a recent Newsweek article below), and who might have been a remarkable First Lady of New York, but whose husband has dreadfully fallen short of expectations. And while she might find many things to love in Weiner even today, one has to wonder what sort of impact she could have had if she had married a different, more successful politician.
The movie also mentions that some of the Weiner staffers signed up because of how close Abedin is to Hillary Clinton, who was already at the time expected to run for President - I suppose that at that rarefied altitude of top political power you don't have any friends, but it also must be tough at times to know that you can never know why people want to be around you.
Newsweek recently ran an article on Abedin that does not portray her in a good light, using terms such as "selfless servility", "relentlessly obedient", "glorified lady's maid" with "a penchant for designer bags and dresses" and more. But the journalist also wrote: "The humiliation of those years is a fading memory now; if anything, it’s a badge of merit at the Clinton campaign offices in Brooklyn, where, as campaign vice chair, Abedin reportedly vetted the entire Clinton for President campaign staff." This is not the impression conveyed in the documentary, where Abedin's steely glares are powerless to keep her husband from making a fool of himself again and again.
Communications director Barbara Morgan came out the best - poised and thoughtful, and deserving a better boss to express her talents than Weiner. (The moment when another staffer recounts how Morgan was badgered by reporters who threatened to write that she and Weiner were having an affair if she didn't answer their questions was chilling. Also chilling was Abedin's clear-eyed comment that she should look happy when she gets out of the building.)
To my own surprise, I couldn't help but feel sorry for Weiner himself when the woman who revealed the second scandal gloated on camera about bringing him down and - having shown up in front of the building where he was going to concede defeat - ran behind him to try to force a meeting when he used backdoors to avoid her.
Politicians like Richard Nixon have also been deeply flawed and seen their career implode, but at least with Nixon there is some understanding of why he turned out the way he did, especially due to his permanent feeling that he was an outsider and that people were out to get him. LBJ grew up poor, felt alienated from the Kennedy clan and was blindsided by Vietnam. With Weiner, there is no such understanding offered, at least in the movie. Why did he self-sabotage like that? The movie offers no answer, and ultimately remains shallow, but offers fascinating glimpses into an imploding political campaign nonetheless.