All politicians have inflated egos - but some need more attention than others
Reflecting on the recent Ross Hussey scandal, Fionola Meredith asks why certain politicians are inclined to take risks
Oh, Weiner: why? That was what I was thinking the whole time I was watching - mostly from between my fingers - the recent documentary about the disgraced New York politician Anthony Weiner.
Why would you wreck your burgeoning career in Congress - not to mention your marriage, to top Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin - by sending intimate pictures to random women? Why, when you launched your comeback by running for mayor of New York, Huma loyally at your side, was your candidacy scuppered by yet more graphic sexting? Most of all, why would you allow a film crew to film every excruciating moment of your long, slow downfall?
Weiner is a fairly lurid example of this kind of reckless, seemingly inexplicable behaviour, but it's by no means unusual in politics. So is there something about the personality of certain politicians that makes them prone to taking risks?
It's a fascinating question, especially in the wake of the controversial revelations about Ross Hussey. The Ulster Unionist MLA admitted using a website to arrange sex sessions with strangers, as well as sending naked pictures of himself to someone he thought was a new partner, but who was actually an undercover journalist.
Mr Hussey is a single man, and I believe he is entitled to make whatever choices he likes in his private life, without anyone sitting in judgement on him. To my knowledge, he has never been guilty of any kind of moral prescriptivism about the intimate lives of others which would render him a hypocrite.
But whatever you think about the way this story came out, it undeniably highlighted a certain penchant for taking risks. Apparently Hussey's face was clearly visible in his profile on the website - which was how a constituent came to recognise him, before tipping off the Sunday Life - alongside a list of his sexual interests. And he was willing to meet someone for an encounter in a Belfast hotel without knowing anything about them, on the pitifully naive basis that people using the website "trust each other".
I don't believe that Mr Hussey was likely to be in physical danger, as has been suggested, or that he endangered the safety of others. But he was certainly playing fast and loose with personal exposure. As well as being a member of the Assembly and the Policing Board, Hussey is also an Orangeman and a mason, none of which are known for their free-wheeling, anything-goes attitude to sexual self-expression. Given the small, gossipy size and nature of Northern Ireland, where everyone knows everyone else, he must have known that he was chancing it.
I repeat, this is not to judge Ross Hussey. I consider any acts between consenting adults to be entirely their choice, nobody else's business. But now the facts of the matter are out there, you can't help asking: why? Why take that blatant risk?
Stephen Crabb, the Christian family man and former Tory leadership contender who dropped out of the race after he was caught sending sexually-charged messages to a young woman, provided some insight into the mindset that predisposes people to act this way. Ironically enough, it was during one of the conversations with the woman who would ultimately expose him. "Most MPs are risk-takers to one degree or another," he wrote. "Usually in the areas of money, sex, political opportunism. Add in the adrenalin, the attention u [sic] get, and the time away from family… toxic mix".
I think Crabb is on to something here. Anyone who enters public life, in its broadest sense - be they politicians, presenters or celebrities - has a hungry ego needing feeding. But for some, their appetite for narcissistic supply is insatiable. The darker side of that confident or charismatic public persona is often a mass of terrible insecurities and feelings of self-loathing.
Sexual connection - the reassurance of somebody, anybody, finding them sexually appealing - must seem like the ideal antidote to those fears, and it comes with the all-consuming power of a drug hit. Logic, restraint, respect for self or others, even basic self-preservation, counts for nothing when that hit is on offer. The adrenaline buzz is just too great. But then it wears off, presumably, and the craving for another fix begins again.
In an interview with the New York Times in 2013, after the first sexting scandal, a repentant Anthony Weiner reflected on past events. "To me, it was just another way to feed this notion that I want to be liked and admired," he admitted.
Months later, with sad predictability, he was caught up in exactly the same situation again.