Why Monica Lewinsky is so much better than Sydney Leathers


Anthony Weiner’s sexting partner, Sydney Leathers, is doing everything she can to extend her 15 minutes of fame, first with a porn video and now with a manual on how to seduce a politician. Meanwhile, Monica Lewinsky’s run of fame is at 15 years and counting — thanks now to the National Enquirer reporting that it obtained a copy of a 1997 tape in which the former White House intern tries to woo Bill Clinton into another rendezvous.

While the tabloid gods have conspired to thrust these poli-temptresses together in the headlines this week, Leathers is no Monica and Monica is no Leathers.

It didn’t take Leathers much longer than one of her sessions with Weiner to cash in, debasing her former cyber paramour in the process.

I know, I know. What more can you expect from a 23-year-old who found herself sexting with a disgraced ex-congressman future mayoral candidate who goes by the name of Carlos Danger? To that I say: Monica Lewinsky wasn’t much older when the sh** hit the fan in a story 10 times as big — and she handled herself 100 times better.

None of this is to whitewash how Lewinsky found herself in the cross-hairs of Whitewater special prosecutor Ken Starr. But once under the spotlight, her character shined. As my late mother, of blessed memory, used to tell me: “Say what you want about Monica Lewinsky, but she wouldn’t wear a wire.”

It’s true that Lewinsky’s poor taste in confidants (Linda Tripp) was ultimately responsible for giving the scandal legs, but she never sought to go public with the affair, fought as best she could (short of going to jail) to keep herself out of Starr’s inquisition and then, even after the scandal exploded and despite some not-so-gentlemanly words from Bill Clinton, she never pulled a Leathers. Yes, eventually there was an authorized biography, purses and television gigs, but all after racking up massive legal bills trying not to be dragged into the public eye — and all in relative good taste. (She even went back to school and earned a master’s degree in social psychology from the London School of Economics.)

When Starr finally managed to drag Lewinsky in front of a grand jury, she underscored her desire to be anywhere else in the world with what might just be the greatest closing line in any testimony. When offered a chance to express any final words on the matter, she declared:  ”I hate Linda Tripp.”

And to that I say: “I love Monica Lewinsky.”

Sydney Leathers, not so much.

We are Carlos Danger


By last Wednesday, thanks to the magic of the Internet, I had seen as much of Anthony Weiner’s private parts as if I had spent the afternoon with him in the shvitz.

The former congressman and New York mayoral hopeful had sexted the pictures to his 23-year-old crush, Sydney Leathers, and she, either disillusioned by his newly crafted family guy image, or just aching to get at least as much airtime as a congressman’s genitals, posted them for all to see.  

By Thursday, I got the whole story from Leathers herself, when she sat for an interview with Howard Stern. For me the telling moment came when Stern asked Leathers why Weiner used the screen name “Carlos Danger.”

Leathers said she never asked; she just assumed it played into his fantasy that he was living some exotic, adventurous double life.

“I think he thought we were in some sexy telenovela together,” she said.

This has been one Wet Hot American Jewish Summer, with an I-405-worthy pileup of Jewish sex scandals.

Weiner is the most late-night worthy, but right behind him is San Diego Mayor “Headlock” Bob Filner, whose female co-workers and colleagues, past and present, have accused him of very inappropriate touching.

Oh, and Eliot “Black Sox” Spitzer is back. After he was caught consorting with expensive prostitutes in 2008, he shamefacedly resigned as governor of New York. Now he’s running for New York City comptroller.

Spitzer claims he is a new man — which would be much more believable if Weiner hadn’t claimed the same thing after he was caught, the first time.

In a New York Times essay this week, Jodi Kantor wondered with great portent how the Jewish community was facing all the salacious news. When Jews go down to scandal, it’s usually of the financial sort — Madoff, Abramoff, the Spinka rabbis, etc. Weiner, Filner and Spitzer — which sounds like the name of the world’s creepiest law firm — have shown that Jews can also excel in an area once reserved for hypocritical televangelists and deeply closeted congressmen. 

Kantor’s thesis is that the hyper-sexual Jew depicted in Philip Roth’s 1967 novel “Portnoy’s Complaint” has, finally, dybbuk-like, inhabited the bodies and upended the careers of our erstwhile political heroes.

“Nearly half a century after the publication of ‘Portnoy’s Complaint,’ politics is finally catching up with fiction,” Kantor wrote, “as libidinous, self-sabotaging politicians are causing grimaces among fellow Jews and retiring outdated cultural assumptions — that Jewish men make solid husbands and that sex scandals belong to others.”

That’s her thesis, and I think before it enters the culture as some kind of fact — this is The New York Times, after all — it bears some unpacking.

Yes, some Jews are indeed feeling embarrassed by the improprieties of their landsmen. That we would utter a small, collective “oy” really isn’t that much of a mystery if you think of Jews not as a religion or a race, but as a family. We take undue credit when one of our own achieves fame — 187 Jewish Nobel Prize winners and Scarlett Johansson! — and we feel unwarranted embarrassment when a Jew, like any human, stumbles. 

But let’s be honest, it’s a pretty low-grade sense of shame — mixed with a shpritz of schadenfreude. Weiner was a cocky congressman — his own brother once called him the d-word (look it up, this is a family newspaper) — so his comeuppance isn’t exactly heartbreaking.

And as to Kantor’s assertion that somehow these scandals now dispel the idea that Jewish men make solid husbands or are above sexual scandal — those are two very different points, and the response is, yes, Jewish men make solid husbands, and no, we’re not above sexual scandal. 

Statistically, Jewish marriages last longer, according to demographer and jewishjournal.com blogger Pini Herman.

In a study of divorcing couples, each partner was asked to list their religion at the time of the divorce. Jews married to Jews had the longest median time married before divorce, according to the study.

“That is a [one-]third longer marriage among couples where both were Jewish, who eventually filed for divorce,” Herman wrote. 

Of course, that might just suggest that Jews suffer longer in bad marriages than others — but, hey, we try.

As for sex, Roth’s Portnoy merely gave free voice to the desires  that every American male, Jewish and not, secretly harbors.

“The perfect couple,” mused Portnoy about a lover, “she puts the id back in yid, I put the oy back in goy.”

That cri de crotch has been echoed by successive generations of Jewish entertainers, from Woody Allen to Howard Stern to Sarah Silverman to Lena Dunham, all of whom have unleashed their libidos through their art and, in the process, made what was dark, secret and forbidden the stuff of stand-up and sitcoms. The difference between the Jewish libido and the gentile one is we talk about ours.   

So, yes Ms. Kantor, like all men, every Jewish man fantasizes, at one time or another, about being a seductive man of mystery — Carlos Danger! — in a sexy tryst. But the vast majority of us know we do much better to take that fantasy and turn it into comedy — before our lives become the punch line.

Why Huma Abedin stands by her man


Many New Yorkers, as the New York Times notes, are “baffled by the loyalty shown by Huma Abedin” to her transgressing spouse, Anthony Weiner.  I suspect, however, that for many first generation immigrants such as myself, especially those of us with Asian and South Asian roots, she is much less of a puzzle.  I recently participated as a faculty member in a leadership seminar for Asian Pacific academics at Cal Poly Pomona, where we discussed the challenging cultural nexus at which many of us stand as we negotiate between our identities as independent career-minded individuals with a strong sense of self and habits that were a dominant part of our identity, growing up as we did with parents and family members for whom gendered social hierarchies were a given and permeated all aspects of daily life.

Huma’s cultural background may provide some clues to the behavior that many women in New York find baffling, especially because Huma is a woman who has had a notable career and held positions of political prominence nationally.

Though born in the US, Huma is a daughter of Muslim immigrants. Her father is of Indian origin, her mother Pakistani.  Both her parents are educators and holders of doctorates from the University of Pennsylvania. They moved, when Huma was young, to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where she grew up, though she returned to the USA for her college education. Certainly, this combination of religious, social, cultural, and international circumstances have made Huma who she is. Precisely which aspects of these fused identities and cultural contexts shaped her is hard to say, but my own experience growing up within a community diverse in its faith, class, caste, and language provides a partial context for understanding Huma’s behavior, though I too, like many New Yorkers, find myself reluctant to endorse or approve of it.

Lest anyone think that my invocation of Huma’s upbringing and background are attempts to see her as playing out a purely subservient role as a Muslim woman from a South Asian background, let me say that I am pointing to something a great deal more complex.  In fact, the line that separates dominance from subservience and authority from servitude is far harder to discern in Asian and South Asian cultures than one might think. And Huma is equally influenced, I am sure, by leaders such as Hillary Clinton.

[Related: The shandah factor: What makes Jewish sex scandals different?]

As a schoolgirl, when I visited my Muslim friend Nazra’s home, I interacted with her four mothers and thought nothing of it. The Muslim Marriage Act in India guides matrimonial practices among Muslims, and Muslim men are legally allowed four wives; the Christian Marriage Act and the Hindu Marriage Act does likewise for Christians and Hindus, respectively.  Even as a child, I understood this difference among religious groups as normal.  Even if Huma’s parents lived a married life such as Christians or Hindus might, could we perhaps understand Huma’s tolerance of her husband’s straying eye within this larger, deeply-held, and long-practiced cultural context that may not have dominated her upbringing but must surely have inflected it? Perhaps. 

The impact of contexts, even ones which one might have rejected decisively, can continue to shape one’s behavior, as I have discovered on many occasions, much to my chagrin.  As I watched Anthony Weiner’s news conference, I could neither take my eyes off Huma nor help but think that she was in a state of deep shock.  Confident, ambitious, and career-driven though she might be, perhaps in this moment of unexpected and unprecedented crisis in her life, the cultural impulse to stand behind her man was instinctive. 

As a woman who wishes to see my Asian and South Asian sisters break out of habits of automatic deference and subservience, I hope, like many New Yorkers, that time will allow Huma to see her husband’s serious problems as ones that she must not facilitate through repeated acts of forgiveness.  Unlike many New Yorkers, however, I think that her behavior might be understood within the context of her complex cultural identity as an independent-minded and American-educated Muslim woman who has led a global life and whose upbringing has been both complex and complicated.


Molly Smith was born in Chenna, India. She earned her undergraduate and master’s degree in English from Madras Christian College, University of Madras, and her doctorate from Auburn University. She has held tenured faculty and administrative posts at St. Louis University, the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, Seton Hall University and Wheaton College, and served as the 11th president of Manhattanville College. Smith also serves on the board of trustees at Fairleigh Dickinson University and on the executive committee of the International Association of University Presidents (IAUP), where she leads an initiative to develop women as academic leaders globally; she is a representative to the United Nations from IAUP.

Opinion: Weiner’s downfall a reminder of perils of Jewish pride


He was supposed to be one of Congress’ rising stars, a Jewish boy from Brooklyn with great ambition and promise.

A truculent Democrat with a penchant for media attention, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) was an unabashed liberal on domestic affairs and a hard-liner on foreign policy, particularly Israel. Like his predecessor in his U.S. House of Representatives seat, Sen. Charles Schumer, Weiner had larger ambitions—in his case, mayor of New York City.

But then came his shamefaced news conference Monday, when the 46-year-old congressman, who was married last year, admitted to lying about sending a lewd photo to a woman he met on the internet.

It was the culmination of a week of dissembling since the conservative blog biggovernment.com had posted the photo. In all, Weiner confessed to carrying on inappropriate online relationships with six women. He said he would not get a divorce from his new wife—Huma Abedin, an aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who is Muslim—nor would he resign.

In the Jewish community, which long had regarded him with pride, Weiner’s spectacularly public downfall was a reminder of the perils of associating a particular person’s successes or failures with his Jewishness.

Weiner’s perennial prefixes—“Jewish congressman, from New York, staunch supporter of Israel”—clearly identified him in the public mind, said Susan Weidman Schneider, editor in chief of the feminist Jewish magazine Lilith.

Just as Italian Americans worry about blanket generalizations with “The Sopranos” or “The Godfather,” Jews sigh reflexively when there is a Jew whose bad judgment and bad behavior are in the spotlight, Weidman Schneider said.

“Only this isn’t fiction,” she said. “There’s a foolishness to Weiner’s attempted cover-up, no pun intended, that’s as embarrassing and cringe-inducing as the acts themselves.”

Reaction to the scandal has come straight from the standard American Jewish playbook, Democratic political consultant Steve Rabinowitz said—loudly celebrate Jewish success and “cringe or mourn Jewish failure.”

“When the Son of Sam turns out to be David Berkowitz or the greatest Ponzi scheme ever is perpetrated by Bernie Madoff or a humiliated politician is named Eliot Spitzer or Anthony Weiner,” Rabinowitz said, “you can almost hear it as a community: Why did he it have to be our guy?”

Weiner’s political identity has long been intertwined with his Jewishness. He has been celebrated by the pro-settlement Zionist Organization of America for his positions on the West Bank, and Weiner routinely introduces a bill that would deny assistance to Saudi Arabia, even though that wealthy country does not receive U.S. assistance beyond a small program that trains Saudi army officers in democracy.

ZOA President Morton Klein said the Weiner scandal represents a “terrible loss for the pro-Israel community.”

“As long as Anthony Weiner remains in Congress, his position on Israel will be among the best,” Klein said. “The only issue now is whether his influence will have diminished and whether his credibility will have diminished.”

Robert Wexler, a Democrat and former Jewish congressman from Florida, said regaining voters’ trust will have to be a top priority for Weiner.

“Up until last week, Anthony was an excellent congressman and a fine public servant,” said Wexler, who now runs the Washington-based S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace. “The bottom line is that he’s a good and decent person that made some grave errors.”

With sincere and honest repentance and a reminder of the Jewish value of “seeing the other person in the image of God,” there’s a way for Weiner to put the scandal behind him, said Orthodox feminist activist Blu Greenberg.

Judaism appreciates forgiveness, and Weiner has the chance to atone by making changes to his life and way of thinking, Greenberg told JTA.

“He doesn’t necessarily have to be a condemned man the rest of his life,” she said. “If others are big enough to forgive him, then his life isn’t over.

“He’s not an ax murderer. He’s a very foolish man in power lacking a sense of appreciation for what he had.”

But whether Weiner can recover to the degree where the American Jewish community will proudly count him again among its ranks is a tougher question.

“He provided a negative example for our children,” said Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism. “We appropriately feel outrage for that.”

(JTA Washington Bureau Chief Ron Kampeas contributed to this report.)

Weiner should resign, Cantor says


Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the U.S. House of Representatives majority leader, called on Congressman Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) to resign.

Cantor’s call Tuesday came a day after Weiner admitted to having innapropriate Internet relationships and lying about a lewd photo posted to his Twitter account.

“I don’t condone his activity. And I think he should resign,” Cantor said Tuesday after a Chamber of Commerce luncheon, the Charlottesville Daily Progress reported.

In a press conference Monday, Weiner pledged he would not resign. After his admission, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) requested an investigation by the Ethics Panel into whether Weiner violated chamber rules.

Traditionally, leaders defer to the an errant lawmaker’s party leadership on whether to call for a resignation. Democrats have been silent so far on whether Weiner should resign.

“We’ve got a lot of serious challenges in this country and a lot of work for Congress to do,” Cantor said. “The last thing we need to do is get enmeshed in a discussion about Congressman Weiner and his Twitter activities.”

Cantor is the highest-ranking Jewish congressman in U.S. history. Weiner, who also is Jewish, is one of the most hawkish congressmen on Israel issues.

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