As a general rule, people who screw up deserve a second chance. But a lot depends on the magnitude of their transgression and the degree of harm they caused.
This can explain why politicians who get caught cheating on their wives are not necessarily finished, the perception being that sexual indiscretion is an understandable human failing. Also, the victims of private sins are primarily the pol's family, whereas public corruption hurts the whole body politic.
The latest example is Mark Sanford, the ex-governor of South Carolina, who turned the phrase "hiking the Appalachian Trail" into a code for adultery. The great proponent of conservative Christian values disappeared from the state house in 2009 with no explanation, lied about his whereabouts and went off to meet his South American paramour.
After he was forced to admit the truth, his wife moved out, divorced him, wrote an unflattering book and charged him with trespassing. Yet voters saw fit to return him to public office earlier this month, when he won a special election in his overwhelmingly Republican congressional district.
So maybe Anthony Weiner shouldn't be counted out in his just-announced bid for mayor of New York City. But he has a steeper path, because tweeting lewd pictures of oneself to strange women is so creepy.
This was not the garden-variety, lots-of-people-cheat sort of thing. It was more of the gross-out, colossal-nerve strain, a combination of exhibitionism, egotism, narcissism and repressed urges -- or so it seems to us armchair psychologists. Doing it while holding public office was beyond stupid, as was lying about it.
No one was hurt except his wife and himself. But the fact that no actual sex was involved could actually work against him.
"I'd give him a better chance if he'd just had sex with another woman," said a friend at a recent gathering. "But sending out crotch shots of himself to total strangers? That's just too weird."
Compounding the humiliation was, and is, his last name, which made for a tabloid headline bonanza.
This was going on while Mr. Weiner's wife, Huma Abedin, was pregnant. They now have a young son. She seems to have forgiven him -- she's a longtime aide to Hillary Clinton, who must have counseled her on an all-too-familiar subject -- and the couple has moved from a modest house in Queens to a large Park Avenue apartment.
The move wasn't his idea, he indicated to The New York Times.
"Given some of the things that Huma and I have been through, I was not going to argue," he said.
He's been keeping a fairly low profile since the scandal -- but also making a lot of money as a consultant for clients who are happy to overlook his sexting, as long as he can do something for them.
As Michael Barbaro of The Times wrote:
"Over the past two years, it appeared as if Mr. Weiner, once the irrepressible fireball of New York City politics, had spent his days as a stay-at-home dad, licking his wounds and mourning his ambitions. ... But it turns out that from the moment he left public view, the man who had relied on a government paycheck his entire adult life was consumed by a corporate career whose profits and progress came to him, by his own account, with remarkable ease. ... Companies eager to navigate federal regulations and red tape say that a tainted congressman is worth every cent.
" 'Business is business," said Harold Gubnitsky, formerly executive vice president at Parabel, a Weiner client that harvests an algae-like crop used for food and fuel. 'He's a very quick student,' Mr. Gubnitsky said. 'He had a natural instinct for it.' "
Furthermore, with characteristic immodesty, Mr. Weiner repeatedly told the interviewer how good he was in his new role, and that he should probably be charging clients more for his expertise.
So what makes him think he can win the voters' trust again so soon? Maybe it's because he's been living in a corporate bubble with clients who are happy to have the benefit of his connections, and it's given him a false sense of security. Voters, after all, are not corporate clients.
Maybe he thinks two years is the shelf life for bad puns and double entendres, and that every joke has been made already. If so, he could be right. Opponents who bring up the scandal could wind up with dirty hands themselves.
Or, to quote a male friend, "The guy just has brass testicles."
In his campaign video, Mr. Weiner says, "The very people who put everything they had into this city are getting priced right out of it, but it doesn't have to be that way. ... Look, I made some big mistakes, and I know I let a lot of people down. But I've also learned some tough lessons. ... I hope I get a second chance to work for you."
Adds his wife, sitting by his side, "We love this city, and no one will work harder to make it better than Anthony."
His former congressional colleague Charles Rangel doesn't see it happening. "I think he would not be able to live with himself if he didn't run, but I don't think it's going to have a serious impact on the outcome of the mayor's race."
Neither does New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Asked what would happen if Mr. Weiner won the race, he said, "Shame on us."
His is not the last word, though. That belongs to the voters. It's going to be a very interesting race.
Sally Kalson is a columnist for the Post-Gazette (email@example.com, 412-263-1610).