Photographer: Jin Lee/Bloomberg; Illustration by Bloomberg View
Photographer: Jin Lee/Bloomberg; Illustration by Bloomberg View

At the end of it all, we’re left, as we always are, with the bitter-tasting “why?” Why did Anthony Weiner send his pictures by text, Twitter and Facebook? Why, when the New York congressman has a great job and the responsibility of the public trust and a new wife and a bright future and the knowledge -- knowledge born of observing countless other personal disasters -- that digital media leave a permanent record, did he send those shirtless shots, and probably more? Oh, and why did he lie?

We have no answer to those questions. And, as his performance at Monday’s news conference made clear, Weiner probably doesn’t have much of a clue himself.

Knowing what we know now -- Weiner says no laws were broken and the encounters were consensual -- the congressman should not be forced to resign. An ethics investigation doesn’t hold much promise, either. Weiner is at the high end of congressional embarrassment and dishonor, but he hasn’t broken any records in this regard. The swiftness with which his Democratic colleagues have called for investigations, though, indicates something else: that Anthony Weiner has probably outlived his utility.

Weiner has a meager record as a legislator. But he was a fierce, effective and sometimes self-righteous advocate for the Democratic line. Having tweeted away his moral authority, he is now of little use to the leadership.

It’s also possible that he’s done some long-term damage to his party. A primary challenge could leave the door open for another Democrat and then, maybe, a Republican. In a redistricting year, one in which New York needs to lose two House seats, Weiner’s vulnerability could tempt legislators to do what was probably unthinkable a week ago: eliminate his district altogether.

Barring any further scandal, Anthony Weiner should be allowed to stay in his job. Political rehabilitation will be difficult; probably not as elusive as cold fusion, but up there. Trying to build a legislative record in the Republican-controlled House will be tough; so too will be escaping the aura of ridicule. Still, New York politics has long been the land of second chances. Weiner has a year and change to convince voters that he deserves one.