Tuesday we watched a familiar scene play out: a politician mired in a sex scandal held a press conference while his wife stood next to him offering her support and an impressive range of facial expressions.
The role of the politico's wronged wife, which Huma Abedin first stepped into two years ago, has become almost mundane, we've seen it played so often. We watched Hillary Clinton and Silda Spitzer play her in life, and we encounter her on a weekly basis on our TV screens -- most notably on "The Good Wife," which is naturally what Harpers Bazaar chose to headline Abedin's first-person editorial which will be running in the magazine's September issue.
As much as we love to dissect the motivations and actions and the hilarious small details (cough, Carlos Danger, cough) of the male politicians who so often find themselves caught in these public sexual messes, we examine their partners' actions and motivations with equal -- if not greater -- scrutiny. "Huma is putting her family's political ambition ahead of the city's needs, and perhaps her own," wrote Kelli Goff for The Washington Post, painting Abedin as both user and martyr. The Atlantic Wire's Elspeth Reeve also insinuated that female ambition was behind Abedin staying with Weiner: "The biggest lesson Abedin learned [from Hillary Clinton] was not just how to help her husband survive a sex scandal, but how to launch her own political career." Over at BuzzFeed, Ruby Cramer focused on Abedin the victim: "The most private person in politics is now at the center of what was supposed to be her husband's comeback story."
I tend to agree with Hanna Rosin's assessment that Abedin managed to successfully carve out a new route for the wronged wife, somewhere between "stand[ing] on the stage alongside him and suffer[ing] forever the derision and condescension of feminists" and "declin[ing] to take the stage and writ[ing] a vengeful memoir."
During Weiner's latest press conference, Abedin didn't simply stand by her husband, she explained herself in her own (of course carefully crafted) words. She said:
I made the decision that it was worth staying in this marriage and that was a decision I made for me, for our son and for our family. I didn't know how it would work out but I did know that I wanted to give it a try. Anthony has made some horrible mistakes both before he resigned from Congress and after but I do very strongly believe that that is between us, and our marriage.
Of course Abedin had to weigh the political implications of staying with Anthony Weiner and choosing to support his career. She's a now public figure who was publicly humiliated and had two choices: to publicly stand by her husband or publicly divorce him. But while we can easily imagine in our "TV imitates life" world that Huma is Alicia Florrick, torn apart by a mix of love and obligation, or First Lady Mellie Grant in "Scandal," making a calculated decision based on her own political aspirations, the reality is that we simply don't know. And we're probably never going to.
So let's focus instead on the aspects of the situation that could affect someone outside her marriage, namely Anthony Weiner's suspect use of social media. Let's weigh how Weiner's actions could impact his ability to lead. New Yorkers can exercise their right to choose another candidate whose judgment and character they trust more.
If at some point Abedin runs for office, voters can decide then whether her current situation affects her political ability (I tend to feel it doesn't). But let's not pretend we understand the complexities of Abedin and Weiner's marriage. As familiar a persona as the political wife has become, her story is always a private fable. We never ultimately know her motives, even when she tells us in a memoir what she thinks they were. That's why she continues to fascinate us.
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