Addiction in Society

Addiction—the thematic malady for our society—entails every type of psychological and societal problem

The Anthony Weiner "Illness:" That Old Disease Got Me In Its Spell

Politico says Weiner is ill, but there seems to be a lot of it going around

A man with a disease -- and he doesn't even know it!
Politico -- a smart, well-informed, on-line political commentary -- says this about Congressman Anthony Weiner, who was caught sexting political admirers, but seemingly had no direct physical contact with any of them:

"If you take a look at the history of Weiner's behavior - and who hasn't? - you see a man who has a compulsion, perhaps an illness. When, on Monday, I suggested this on the Charlie Rose show, it seemed a little over the top. Today, just two days later, it seems obvious."

Politico then called for Weiner to undergo obviously needed psychiatric care.

As the author of "Love and Addiction," where in 1975 I introduced the idea that love and sexual relationships can be addictive, I can hardly object to this Politico formulation (except for calling it an illness or a disease).

But I do have a question.  Is there any limit to how common a psychiatric disease can be?  That is, if many political figures act this way, do they all have diseases?  And I say that because Weiner's behavior -- a powerful political figure taking advantage of his position to have wayward sex -- is, if not typical, certainly not uncommon.

Here is a humorous New York times compilation of apologies stemming from the sexual peccadilloes of various elected officials over the years.  Funnily, not one claimed they had a disease, nor did any mention entering psychiatric treatment as a part of their apologies.  They did frequently refer to their families, God, and their political honor.  Now, we can't say for sure whether all of them have cleaned up their acts, but they certainly have gotten out of the sexual limelight (this includes Bill Clinton, Eliot Spitzer, Newt Gingrich, and a number of others).

One Senator's recent confession is not listed among the many the Times repeated.  Rachel Maddow devoted a full segment of her show last night to the case of David Vitter, the Lousiana politician who was found to be a frequent guest on a Washington DC call-girl list.  Vitter toughed it out, got re-elected, and is now a happy, fully-functioning member of the U.S. Senate.  The call-girl involvement that was discovered wasn't the only inappropriate sexual behavior Vitter was claimed to have engaged in.  According to the Washington Post, "Vitter was accused. . . of carrying on a lengthy affair with a prostitute in New Orleans's French Quarter."

How does repeated sex with prostitutes compare with sexting as a psychiatric symptom?  Since the press let up on him, and he now (seemingly) is living the straight and narrow, after allegedly years, and maybe decades, of this wayward sexual behavior, is his disease over?  Maddow did a nice bit about how the same Republican political figures who call on Weiner to resign never made a peep about Vitter.  Has Politico done a segment on Vitter's disease?  Does Vitter's long-term infidelity qualify as an illness?

Maddow reviewed the Vitter case as a part of her discussion of the Bill Clinton impeachment hearings, in which Vitter played an active role as a then-Congressman.  But, as Maddow described, one of Vitter's Louisiana Congressional colleagues who was slated to assume the speakership of the House, Robert Livingston, instead resigned, since a series of affairs he had had were about to be revealed.

But, then, Livingston was about to replace Newt Gingrich, who had resigned the speakership for exactly the same reason!

Did Gingrich have a disease?  Here are some factoids about Gingrich: he had cheated on a previous wife, he is running for president currently, he doesn't report ever having seen a psychiatrist about his sexual behavior, and he seems to be involved in a very staid, non-sexual lifestyle currently with a very religious wife (Gingrich himself is born again).  Neither the public nor Politico refers to Gingrich as having a disease these days.

Oh, where is Politico's column about Arnold Schwarzenegger's disease?  Isn't having an illegitimate child resulting from an affair within one's own home (along with other affairs) a significantly more disruptive psychiatric symptom than sexting while your wife is out of town?

Here are the questions I have about Politico's diagnosis that Congressman (we don't know for how much longer) Weiner obviously has an illness:

  1. Did Jack Kennedy have this illness (as well as Ted)?

  2. Did Bill Clinton? (Clinton had sex with a 21-year-old intern in the White House, as well as allegedly having a long-term affair while he was Governor of Arkansas, as well as allegedly exposing himself to an unwilling object of his desire  -- aren't all of those significantly worse than anything Weiner did?)

  3. Can people overcome this illness without psychiatric treatment, or did Ted Kennedy die with this disease, as will (presumably) Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, and others?

  4. What would Politico guess the prevalence of this illness (as manifested by extramarital sexual contact as bad as -- or worse than -- Weiner's) is among male members of the U.S. Congress - 10%, 20%, 25%, more?

  5. Can something become an illness when historically similar behavior (as with Kennedy, Gingrich, and Clinton) wasn't previously?

Stanton Peele, PhD, JD, is the author of Recover! He has been a pioneer in the addiction field since publication of Love and Addiction in 1975.

more...

Subscribe to Addiction in Society

Current Issue

Let It Go!

It can take a radical reboot to get past old hurts and injustices.