After the tumult of the First World War, noted Winston Churchill, only the intractability of the Irish Question had emerged unscathed:
"Great Empires have been overturned. The whole map of Europe has been changed," he told the House of Commons. "But as the deluge subsides and the waters fall short, we see the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone emerging once again."
And so it goes after another tumultuous week in American politics. Nearly a third of homeowners are "underwater" – that's to say, they owe more on their mortgages than the property is worth. Private-sector job growth has all but vanished. The House of Representatives voted not to raise the debt ceiling.
But as the debt ceiling subsides – or, at any rate, stays put – we see the dreary steeple of Anthony Weiner emerging from his Twitpic crotch shot.
For the benefit of the few remaining American coeds Rep. Weiner isn't following on Twitter, the congressman's initial position when his groin Tweet went viral was that his Twitter had been hacked. Could happen to anyone. From last Thursday's edition of The Daily Telegraph:
"British intelligence has hacked into an al-Qaida online magazine and replaced bomb making instructions with a recipe for cupcakes."
True. If MI6 can break into a Yemeni website run by Anwar al-Awlaki and infect it with home-baking favorites from "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," I don't doubt that the same spooks could easily hack into Anthony Weiner's computer and Tweet his cupcake to that poor college girl in Seattle.
But Congressman Weiner then retreated from the sinister hacking line, and protested that all this fuss about a mere "prank" involving a "randy photo" (his words) was an "unfortunate distraction" from real issues like raising the debt ceiling. Like Bill Clinton in the Nineties, Rep. Weiner needs to "get back to work for the American people."
It's the political class doing all this relentless "work for the American people" that's turned this country into the brokest nation in the history of the planet, killed the American Dream and left the American people headed for a future poised somewhere between the Weimar Republic and Mad Max. So, if it's a choice between politicians getting back to work for the American people or Tweeting their privates round the planet, I say, Tweet on, MacDuff. Tough on our young college ladies. But, as Queen Victoria advised her daughter on her wedding night, lie back and think of England. Download and think of America.
Congressman Weiner's next move was to tell NBC News that he "can't say with certitude" whether the Tweeted crotch is his. "I don't know what photographs are out there in the world of me," he told CNN. He seems to be saying that this could be one of his, but, until an appraiser from Sotheby's can establish the provenance, it might just be a doppelganger. Saddam Hussein had a lot of lookalikes on the payroll to confuse his enemies, and it wouldn't be a surprise to discover our Congressional princelings were trending in the same direction.
So we're drifting from outrageous cybercrime to "prank" to "Hey, who doesn't have snaps of his genitalia out there in the world?" To revive another Clintonian line: Everybody does it. "Everyone lies about Twitter-flirting," wrote the blogger Little Miss Attila, "and everyone knows that everyone lies about Twitter-flirting." "Flirting"? Why, yes: I'm assured by correspondents more au courant in "social media" that there's nothing unusual about Tweeting your nether regions to people you've never met in distant time zones. Get with the beat, daddy-o, it's a widely accepted courtship ritual of the 21st century: the flower of American maidenhood wants to see a prospective swain straining his BVDs at what I believe the lads at the TSA call Code Orange alert before they'll agree to meet him for a chocolate malt at the soda fountain.
To each her own. In my day it was "A White Sport Coat And A Pink Carnation," as Marty Robbins sang (Billboard Country & Western Number One, 1957). But apparently these days that leaves the ladies cold, and the pink carnation can prompt titters, unless it's artistically positioned across one's crown jewels, and you'd probably need to get in a professional photographer and some double-sided Scotch tape.
According to Christopher Hitchens, politics is show business for ugly people. If Anthony Weiner is anything to go by, it seems more like high school for ugly people. As the story evolves, the logic seems to favor the blogger Ann Althouse's explanation – that Weiner's cavalcade of daily Tweets are too droll to be written by him. He favors cute hashtags: For the Republican presidential field, "#TargetRichEnvironment"; for Newt Gingrich, upon entering the race, "#TallestPygymy." "So terribly clever and edgy," writes Professor Althouse. "Why does a Congressman have time for that?" Her conclusion is that Weiner has a ghost-Tweeter, and the ghost-Tweeter uploaded the crotch shot, but that, because the "terribly clever and edgy" Tweets are essential to Weiner's sense of his own indispensability, he cannot admit that he's lip-synching. It would be like Charlie Sheen confessing that it was a body-double under the bevy of hookers and suitcase of coke.
Between Occam's Razor (it's Weiner's junk, and he Tweeted it) and Occam's Lip-Syncher (the ghost-Tweeter did it) lies a third possibility – that the Tweets aren't by Weiner but the Twitpic crotch shot to the cute co-ed is. The republic's "citizen-legislators" do hardly anything for themselves these days, starting with reading the thousand-page legislation they cheerily pass, but if they can't even perform their own sex scandals there really is no point to them. For the last quarter of 2010, Weiner listed 19 staffers, a few with highly specific job descriptions ("Deputy Director of Immigration Affairs") but most with the kind of blandly nebulous titles ("Staff Assistant") that could cover almost anything, including in-house ghost-Tweeting. For the sake of argument, let us take it as read that American men are emailing their genitals across the fruited plain all day long, and that in the nature of these things one or two attachments go awry and wind up in the in-box of the elderly spinster who runs the quilting bee and you have to make a rather sheepish apology. Congressmen are among the few in this land who, in such a situation, can breezily say, as Weiner did to CNN's Dana Bash, "You have statements that my office has put out... ." Herein lies the full horror of American politics in the death throes of the republic: A Congressman has nothing better to do of an evening than Tweet his crotch to coeds, but he requires an "office" with "staffers" to "put out" "statements" on the subject.
When Weiners have staffers, it's very difficult to have limited government: You cannot have a small state run by big Weiners. If you require an "office" to issue "statements" about your Tweets, it's hardly surprising you're indifferent to statist bloat elsewhere.
In the end, the Congressman was not so "distracted" that he wasn't able to vote to raise the debt limit. Confronted by his Twitpic, one is tempted to channel Mae West: Is that a debt-ceiling increase in your Fruit of the Looms or are you just pleased to see me? Alas for America, it's both.
Mark Steyn: Weiner helping junk the country