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How many chances does Weiner deserve?

Former West Virginia Congressman and Gov. Bob Wise handled an embarrassing sex scandal about as well as anyone in public life could.

When news of his affair with a married state employee surfaced in 2003, Wise admitted to it, did every press interview and dropped plans to run for re-election the following year.

Wise moved to Washington, D.C., with his family after his term was up and took a job with the Alliance for Excellent Education. He has spent the last decade establishing himself as an expert and opinion leader in public education.

It was a dignified response to an undignified act by a public official.

Contrast that with former congressman and New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner. The Democrat revealed this week that he continued to send sexually explicit messages and images to women on the Internet for up to a year after he resigned from Congress.

As the New York Times reported, "The revelation collides with the narrative Mr. Weiner has offered throughout the campaign, in which he has repeatedly suggested that he has spent time since leaving Congress rehabilitating himself and repairing his family relationships."

Notably, when allegations first emerged in 2011 that he had sent sexually explicit texts to a woman following him on Twitter, he denied it for several days before owning up.

So Weiner engages in salacious conduct, lies about it before eventually confessing, asks for a second chance when he enters the mayor's race - and then is forced to admit that the bad behavior continued even as the public story was that he and his wife were rebuilding their relationship.

It was a moment of clarity when, during one of his online sex chats where Weiner used the puerile nom de guerre Carlos Danger, he confessed, "I'm deeply flawed."

On that everyone can agree.

Of course, all of us are flawed because we are human.

But not all of us persistently seek the public trust while consistently violating it. And Weiner, while occasionally contrite, cannot resist the verbal contortions so pervasive among lifelong politicians

"I hope they (the voters) are willing to still continue to give me a second chance, and I hope they realize that in many ways what happened today was something that frankly had happened before, but it doesn't represent all that much that is new," Weiner parsed.

After the news conference, Weiner rushed to a forum on HIV and AIDS where at least it was evident that he was aware of the irony.

"I admit it; there are a lot of people who probably listen to me and say, 'You know what, you're not a very good messenger for these things.'  I admit it," he said.

Some career politicians must be wired differently.

Their identity is defined by public life to the degree that they never see themselves as disqualified.  They explain away election defeats as a "failure to get their message across."

Humiliating personal failures that raise legitimate character questions are packaged as opportunities for public redemption.

The one question Weiner did not get from any of the 100 members of the press at Tuesday's hastily called news conference was, "Have you no shame?"

Kercheval is host of TalkLine, broadcast by the MetroNews Statewide Radio Network from 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday. The show can be heard locally on WCHS 580 AM.


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