Why Bill Clinton could survive a sex scandal but Filner and Weiner will not

The male-power-arrogance-stories just keep on coming.

Former New York congressman Anthony Weiner and San Diego Mayor Bob Filner are just the latest variations on a theme.

In California, eight women have come forward with increasingly explicit allegations of sexual harassment by the mayor. Last Friday, Mr. Filner faced the cameras to explain his side.

He offered the by-now-oh-so-familiar narrative of the embattled leader: A carefully crafted statement of contrition. A desire to change. A willingness to go to rehab.


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And a fierce commitment to hold on to power.

Anthony Weiner, now a candidate for mayor in New York City, is also vowing to stay in the race.


As I watched Mr. Filner’s press conference, I didn’t see a hint of emotion. I saw no relationship between the pretty words Mr. Filner read and his public demeanor. I saw, instead, someone who is cold, calculating, and defiant.  Much like Anthony Weiner’s demeanor in his newly released campaign video.

That is male-power-arrogance writ large.

What irks me most is not their behavior. Their arrogance is a tired old story that is no longer a surprise. No, what stuns me is our willingness to invite politicians like these back into office, again and again, as the voters of South Carolina recently did with Mark Sanford.

Why don’t we consider a different kind of leader, instead? And I’m not talking about their politics. I’m talking about their personality make-up.

Mr. Filner exhibits no warmth.


Mr. Weiner exhibits no warmth.


No, these men are both prime examples of the male-power-ambition-arrogance species.

As flawed as President Bill Clinton’s conduct was, he possessed a personal warmth that enabled him to rebound from a national sex scandal with aplomb. When he hugged a voter or said, “I feel your pain,” we believed he really did care.

So what is the difference between a Bill Clinton and Weiner & Filner?

Consider the research of Amy J.C. Cuddy. An Associate Professor at the Harvard Business School, Cuddy is in the forefront of global research which compellingly suggests that great leaders need to embody both warmth and competence (Harvard Business Review, July/August 2013). Not surprising, is it? But here’s the kicker. The ideal leader embodies a perfect balance of warmth and competence.

Even when President Clinton “did not have sexual relations” with then White House intern Monica Lewinsky, he was able to exude more warmth than we are witnessing today from either Weiner and Filner combined. Clinton left office with the highest approval rating of any president since World War II.

Aware of his own character deficit, Mr. Weiner last week trotted out Huma Abedin, his usually press-shy wife, to add the warmth factor.

In last year’s election cycle, both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney relied on their wives, Michelle and Ann, to reassure us that, yes, Barack and Mitt really were well-rounded, complete human beings.

Sad, isn’t it?

Didn’t you, too, have those moments when you thought, darn it, Michelle and Ann should be running for office instead?

Amy Cuddy uses the term “Happy Warrior” to define the leader with a deft warmth/competence mix. She offers former Texas governor Ann Richards as an example of a Happy Warrior.

Yes, a woman.

And when I look at the profiles of our male leaders in Congress right now, I am hard-pressed to find a single Happy Warrior in the bunch.

Crisis management consultants make mega-bucks to get the arrogant males off-the-hook. They write the pretty little lies which the likes of Weiner and Filner utter with competence but no heart.

Yes, they play the public like a well-tuned piano. They understand the emotional arc of the client- redemption-sonata, from our outrage at their failings to our all-too-quick amnesia and our eventual desire for their triumphant return. And they know that, in the end, it’s never about the fallen bad boy’s redemption. It’s about our own.

Every one of us is the failed hero who yearns for a second chance. Every one of us is a Bob Filner or Anthony Weiner. And every time we consider voting another male-arrogant-leader back into office, we’re diving into our personal reservoir of guilt and shame.

Mind you, I am a firm believer in human learning. I believe in doing the hard personal work. I believe in the potential for transformation. Most importantly, I believe in forgiveness.

I just don’t believe we have to elect a Bob Filner or an Anthony Weiner again.

Do community service. Make lots of money. Have a great life. But please move on.