In the Weiner age, the member is the message
Forty-six-year-old Democrat Anthony Weiner is sharp faced and sharp tongued.He's had to be tough, not only because he represents parts of Queens and Brooklyn, but because he's travelled through life with a challenging surname, which also happens to be a slang term for penis.
The relevance of this will soon become clear.
His wife is a senior aide to Hillary Clinton. He had his sights set on succeeding the high profile Michael Bloomberg as Mayor of New York, which seemed entirely plausible, until it all came unstuck over a reckless tweet.
The tweet, sent from his account, showed a picture of the lower torso of an aroused man in grey boxer briefs. From the angle it was taken, it suggested a self portrait. It was sent unsolicited to a 21-year-old female student in Seattle.
But it was when it also showed up in the inbox of combative conservative blogger and activist Andrew Breitbart that his world really started falling apart.
Even then, America's unseemly crotch shot scandal might have quietly fizzled out on the inside pages of the tabloids but for a series of truly bizarre television explanations given by the voluble Weiner. He couldn't seem to help himself.
After denying sending it and saying his Twitter account had been hacked, he astonished reporters by also declaring that he couldn't say "with certitude", that the picture wasn't his.
When CNN's Wolf Blitzer struggled to believe that the congressman wouldn't know his own underpants, Weiner offered "I don't know what photographs are out there in the world of me. I don't know what things have been manipulated and doctored."
On ABC America he was equally unconvincing "I am reluctant to say definitively anything about this."
He was also strangely reluctant to call in the FBI. The mere whiff of an online security breach on Capitol Hill is normally enough for that.
Weiner said he didn't want to make a 'federal case' out of it, joking about his name and dismissing it as a prank, as he tried to explain to chasing reporters why he preferred to use a private security firm instead.
It was soon apparent why.
His conservative nemesis Andrew Breitbart had other pictures.
"I've seen a lot of this congressman's body and he's in very good shape", an exultant Breitbart told reporters, gatecrashing a hastily convened Weiner press conference.
Other embarrassing photos were produced including a shirtless congressman flexing and posing at his desk, with a framed picture of former President Clinton visible over his shoulder.
Mercifully Breitbart decided to withhold one X rated shot that he judged too graphic for publication.
A humiliated Weiner trudged to the podium soon after to admit to "terrible mistakes", the veins on his neck standing out as he confessed everything in an excruciating half hour.
Fighting back tears, he said the male groin shot was indeed of him and that after tweeting it, he'd panicked. To a stunned room he also confessed to many other 'inappropriate" Twitter and Facebook exchanges stretching over three years, including explicit messages and photographs sent to at least half a dozen women.
"I've not been honest with myself, my family, my constituents, my friends, my supporters and the media", he said. He apologised repeatedly to his wife, who he only married last year.
Weiner says he lied because he was embarrassed and while it was dumb; he didn't break the law or his oath of office and wouldn't be resigning.
That may not be for him to decide.
An ethics probe has already been ordered and his political allies have quickly vanished.
He says he didn't use his congressional office or any government resources but can't vouch for every exchange. One of the women he pursued says she received over a hundred direct online messages from the congressman.
In the world of virtual sex it's also impossible to know if any of his online partners were underage.
He has 45,000 followers on Twitter and says using social networks was a good way of getting his political message out, but after this tawdry meltdown some in Washington are asking if politicians should ever risk engaging personally on social networking sites.
Online magazine Politico reported that Twitter is so concerned about an overreaction on Capitol Hill the online networking service has sent an email to congressional offices offering security tips.
The episode is all the more damaging for Democrats because Weiner was one of the party's most effective scrappers in the US House of Representatives. Not anymore.
Teenagers are constantly warned about the dangers of sexting. Now it seems US Congressmen need to be protected from themselves too. It also serves as a reminder of the political axiom - the cover up is usually worse than the crime.
As the scandal unfolded Weiner was prone to making bad jokes at his own expense, apologising for being "a little bit stiff" one day and quipping to reporters that the shot of his bulging briefs could turn out to be "the point of Al Qaeda's sword".
He isn't laughing now.
Craig McMurtrie works for ABC News in the Washington bureau.