The point is that sexual sleaze is more repellent when everyone can see it up close. That’s especially true for a largely middle-age punditocracy that is familiar with flesh-and-blood affairs but far less familiar with the kind that take place via cellphone. According to a 2010 study by the Pew Research Center, only 5 percent of Americans 30–49 admit to having sent a sexually explicit message or image via cell. Among Americans in their 20, it’s 13 percent. As in so many arenas of life, what people once did in person they now do virtually. And for a generation that’s not yet accustomed to them, sexual indiscretions committed virtually seem creepier than the old-fashioned kind. In a decade, after we’ve suffered through loads of sexting scandals (and we will), I suspect penis pictures will lose their some of their power to shock.
“Mr. Weiner is not a normal human being,” sneered the Journal in its editorial demanding he drop out. If only it were that simple. Was Franklin Roosevelt normal? He began an affair with Eleanor’s social secretary, Lucy Mercer, was caught, and pledged to remain faithful, then took up with Mercer again, even though she was now married and he was president. His daughter helped him conceal the continued infidelity from her own mother, and it was Mercer, not the president’s wife, who was with FDR when he died. Was John F. Kennedy normal? He allegedly invited prostitutes to swim in the White House pool. Among the various women with whom he slept as president was Judith Exner, who was simultaneously sleeping with the most powerful mobster in Chicago. Was Lyndon Johnson normal? Fellow members of Congress commented with alarm on his habit of waving his penis in their direction in Capitol bathrooms while commenting proudly on its size. In mixed company, he sometimes pulled down his pants to scratch his rear end. “None of the body parts customarily referred to as private were private when the parts were Lyndon Johnson’s,” wrote Robert Caro.