Anthony Weiner: The Tweet Smell of Success
We have seen Anthony Weiner before.
Is it among the faces in the long line of disgraced, discarded political figures that have preceded him? In Wilbur Mills or Wayne Hays or Bob Livingston? In Larry Craig or Mark Foley?
No, not really.
Is it in the faces of those lucky enough to have survived such imbroglios: in that of Bill Clinton or Barney Frank? In Garry Studds or David Vitter?
No, not there, either.
Is Rep. Weiner the incarnation of the great Budd Schulberg's fictional Sammy Glick, the grasping hustler in What Makes Sammy Run?, a character on the surface so successful, but in reality so lonely and insecure that he consorts with a prostitute shortly after his engagement.
No, where we have actually visited Mr. Weiner previously is in another tale of the show business hustler (remember the axiom: "Politics is show business for unattractive people") -- in Ernest Lehman and Clifford Odets' savage portrait of Broadway press agent Sidney Falco.
We remember Falco from Tony Curtis' amazing portrayal of him in 1957's The Sweet Smell of Success. Falco, like Weiner, is a small time big-city hustler, eking out a living performing other people's dirty work -- but dreaming of greater things. In Falco's case, he grovels before powerful Broadway gossip columnist J. J. Hunsicker (icily portrayed by Burt Lancaster) to plant items for his clients, hoping to someday operate a column of his own. Ultimately, Falco abets Hunsicker in framing J. J.'s sister's jazz musician boyfriend, Steve Dallas, planting upon Dallas a joint.
Lehman and Odets' portrait of Falco et al so repulsed The Sweet Smell of Success' premier audience, that they sat "curling up, crossing their arms and legs, recoiling from the screen in disgust." The film, hypnotic, compelling, and now considered among Hollywood's great works, remains an often unpleasant, chilling portrayal of ambition and corruption.
As for Anthony Weiner, he reveled in the role of merciless attack dog. He had been the hustler from the beginning, an aspiring TV weather man turned Chuck Schumer intern and staffer before becoming, at just 27, New York City's youngest-ever city councilman, following an election campaign so dirty that the New York Times editorialized against his " coarse appeal to racial fears in his mostly white district, Mr. Weiner distributed an anonymous flier that unfairly described an opponent, Adele Cohen, as the captive of an allegedly sinister David Dinkins-Jesse Jackson 'agenda'."
Ultimately, when Schumer won his Senate seat, Weiner became his successor in the House. Like his mentor, Weiner played a pliant media like a Stradivarius. His recent star-chamber report on Glenn Beck and gold purchases and his hysterical rant against his New York colleague, Long Island's Peter King, revealed just what he was capable of -- and the demagogic lengths that he was willing to travel to please party leadership, further his own mania to become mayor of New York City, and to narcissistically secure face-time on national networks.
No job was too dirty for either Sidney Falco or Anthony Weiner.
And, in the end, Sidney Falco's games caught up with him. At movie's end, the hunter has become the hunted, for J. J. Hunsicker has access to goons with far more physical muscle than Sidney Falco possesses -- and in a deserted, pre-dawn Times Square they are about to brutally employ it upon Mr. Falco.
Now, the Democratic Party is inflicting its collective, ungrateful muscle upon its one-time henchman and hit-man.
And, as in the case of Sidney Falco being beaten to a pulp in Times Square, humanity compels us to feel some compassion for Anthony Weiner.
But, as with Mr. Falco, he has not made it easy for anyone.
David Pietrusza (davidpietrusza.com) is the author of 1920: The Year of the Six Presidents and Silent Cal's Almanack: The Homespun Wit & Wisdom of Vermont's Calvin Coolidge.