LOUDMOUTH SEPTEMBER 4, 2013
Am I the only one who watched the video (see below) of former Rep. Anthony Weiner arguing with a man in Borough Park, Brooklyn, and found Weiner kind of endearing? Admittedly Weiner calls the guy a "jackass," which probably isn't appropriate for somebody seeking elected office (although the question of whether Weiner is at this point seeking elected office is much like the question of how many angels dance on the head of a pin). But Weiner's greatest strength is how good he is in these retail settings, and part of that—as I have witnessed in person—is his eagerness to take on all comers (note how Weiner goes back inside). This guy at the bakery is getting his pre–Rosh Hashanah honey cake, just like Weiner, and he decided to speak his mind, and Weiner decided to speak back. They're not arguing so much as they're kibbitizing. The biggest risk either is taking is a little heartburn.
One thing that seems to offend people is that Weiner made reference to the man's rabbi. "You're my judge?" Weiner asks. "What rabbi taught you that?" But this is not offensive. Let me Jewsplain. Jews speak differently to each other, sometimes, than they do to non-Jews, or in the presence of non-Jews. (Jews are the only ethnic group to do this, unless you count every single other ethnic group.) Usually this manifests as a desire not to air dirty laundry; when a Jew behaves badly in a public way, he is said to be a shande fur die Goyim—the offense lies in the fact that he did whatever he did in front of the Gentiles. This, I would bet anything, is the man's real problem with Weiner: "You're a bad example for the people," he tells Weiner. And the corollary is that Jews, among themselves, can make appeals to authorities that they cannot make in mixed company—in this case to a Jewish religious authority, but that literal appeal is also always a figurative appeal. (The hot-dog maker Hebrew National capitalized on this with a brilliant ad campaign: "We answer to a higher authority.") Jews expect other Jews to answer to them. (There is, naturally, a Philip Roth story about this, and you can read it here.) That is what is going on here: The man in the bakery is personally offended by Weiner precisely because they are both buying pre–Rosh Hashanah honey cake. Okay, so it's a little psychotic, but something has sustained the Jews over the millennia.
You know what does bother me about the clip? Deep into it, Weiner tells the man, "You have not done anything for this community." The proper rebuttal to this is, "That's right, that's why I elect people like you—to do something for this community." Here Weiner betrays his lack of understanding that this is what elected officials are actually supposed to do. To him, politics is a vehicle for self-aggrandizement, and serving the community is a cudgel to be waged in the service of that vehicle. "You deliver for yourself," the man tells him.
But all in all, Weiner comes across to me exactly as I imagine he wished to come across: the scrappy kid from Brooklyn. Anyway, it is not perilous armchair-psychology to diagnose in Weiner a deeply insecure man who compensates via exhibitionism and ultimately craves external validation. Which is to say, the worst thing his interlocutor could do to Weiner is vote for somebody else next Tuesday. God bless America, shanah tovah, and rock the vote.
A longer cut of the incident, released by the Weiner campaign, shows the man saying Weiner is "married to an Arab":