So let’s take Anthony Weiner seriously now

Anthony Weiner. ()
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Anthony Weiner did well in this big, revealing New York Times Magazine story.

He comes across as flawed but human, and reasonably well adjusted after his time in virtual hiding. He's even better than before, maybe, to hear him and his family tell it: As his brother said to the Times, Weiner's relentlessly combative persona, pre-scandal, had bled over into his private persona as well, making him almost intolerably douchey. Apparently that's all different now.

Among other things, the article once again confirms for us that Weiner's greatest asset, as was already becoming apparent before the Twitter stuff, is his wife Huma Abedin, who has stood by him, despite what he put her through, and thereby makes everyone else who would judge him for those actions seem petty.

So, good. In the context of a possible run for mayor, which Weiner now says he is considering, we don't have to concern ourselves anymore with the mistweeting, or with the crazy-unconvincing lies he told the world afterward. There is just nothing else new to say about it, because here he is, addressing it all on the record, answering a reporter's questions about it until the reporter had nothing else to ask.

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That's what this (well written, thoroughly enjoyable, mostly accurate) article does for Weiner: It's all out there now, almost more than we can bear, and the voters can take it or leave it. So now we can talk about other things, right?

Like, for instance, the question of what Weiner has to offer substantively. Which happens to be the question he never quite answered. And which the scandal, and Weiner's now-explicit attempt to overcome it, actually obscures.

Weiner was always more interested in politics than policy, which has allowed him the flexibility over the years to alter his shtick to fit whatever his consumers at the time wanted to hear.

Long before he was the liberal representative who'd go on national TV to issue progressive battle cries when President Obama wouldn't, he was the striving Council candidate from Sheepshead Bay who beat his more liberal opponent by linking her to the Jesse Jackson-David Dinkins "agenda." (In a subsequent editorial, the Times called Weiner out for his "coarse appeal to racial fears in his mostly white district.")

From there, he won his old boss' seat in Congress, and it seemed to be only a matter of time before he'd get his shot at City Hall.

Yes, Weiner outperformed expectations in the 2005 mayoral election, but that was at a time when his campaign, and platform, received about as much scrutiny as a campaign usually gets when no one expects it to succeed.

In 2009, when Weiner actually had a good chance at winning the nomination, he was spooked out of the race by Michael Bloomberg's oppo-wielding aides, who planted stories about Weiner spending too much time playing hockey (instead of, say, attending floor votes) and too much energy facilitating legislation to help foreign fashion models get visas. The stories themselves weren't killers, but it was what they added up to. The motif was that this was not a man of substance—he was a guy who talked a big game but squandered his position, when it came down to it, on frivolities.

So now Weiner is back, and maybe ready for one more run at City Hall. He commissioned a poll, and now he's dealt with The Scandal. But there's no sign yet that he's done much about the substance.

We know Weiner does the public-facing part well, and we've known it since long before he became a liberal celebrity for his viral tantrums against Republican perfidy. He always had the Schumeresque knack for getting attention, and was always that official whom a reporter could rely on for topical comments that were provocative and extemporaneous-sounding when most others were offering only the canned variety.

His mayoral candidacy would almost certainly end up being the most entertaining one by far, if he gets in this year. Weiner says now that there's nothing stopping him from telling the unvarnished truth, and that the new Weiner might come across on the trail as "somewhere between Chauncey Gardner and Bulworth," which actually sounds kind of awesome next to the prospect of several more months of Christine Quinn's front-running message discipline.

But entertainment is what it's most likely to be. Sounding like Schumer never made Weiner a Schumer, just as marrying into Clinton World never made Weiner a Clinton. He's just not about issues the way that they are.

The Twitter stuff wasn't a historic act of self-destruction in which a transformative political figure risks great things in the service of a reckless act. Aside from what it might mean for Weiner personally to be remembered for something other than the way his career ended, the stakes here are lower than all the attention might make it seem.

The Times magazine quotes Weiner's friend and former roommate Jon Stewart, who like everyone else in the business of political commentary mocked Weiner in his darkest hour, recalling what he said to Weiner privately.

“We create a two-dimensional effigy of an individual and just kind of burn it in the town square and then walk away,” Stewart says. “As someone who is part of the process that does that to people, when I talked to him, it was more from that perspective than anything else, to say: ‘As low as you are, please understand that what’s happening to you right now isn’t really happening to you, it’s happening to whatever caricature we’ve all created of you. You have your own responsibility in this, but it’s not to us. I know it’s hard to separate yourself from that, but I hope you can at some level.’ ”

Now, post-scandal, that caricature of the scrappy, sweary congressman from Brooklyn has some more depth to it. But if it ever comes time to have a substantive conversation about what Anthony Weiner actually wants to do once he gets to City Hall, it's still not much to work with.