THE BLOG
11/15/2011 11:23 am ET | Updated Jan 15, 2012

Lying for Love: Gloria Cain and the Wife Defense

Poor Gloria Cain. Now that her husband's bid for the Republican nomination is all but sunk, she's being dragged into the national spotlight to do the dirtiest political wife work of all: defending the dawg who allegedly cheated on her, selling him to the voting public using her word as collateral. "I know the type of person he is," Gloria Cain she told Greta von Susteren on Fox News. "He totally respects women ... I'm thinking he would have to have a split personality to do the things that were said."

Indeed, he would. Mrs. Cain's naiveté reminded me of the passage in Sally Bedell Smith's book, For Love of Politics, describing the moment when Hillary got wind of Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky in the Oval Office. Apparently, Hillary's first reaction was that "he couldn't be that insane." Well, yes, he could.

Unlike Mrs. Clinton, however, Gloria Cain is not a political animal. By all accounts, she's an exceedingly private person who hates the spotlight, "the nicest woman you've ever met" according to friends. This makes it especially heartbreaking to see her being hauled out to clean up her husband's mess with the Mop 'n Glo of wifely devotion. As if two weeks of sordid, skirt-chasing accusations were not enough to endure, Mrs. Cain has been asked to swallow what's left of her pride (for the sake of Herman's shot-in-the-dark nomination) and join the ranks of betrayed spouses on the perp walk of public humiliation.

It's enough to make a would-be candidate's wife take cutlery tips from Lorena Bobbitt.

The spectacle of political spouses forced to lie for love, as Hillary Clinton appears to have done and Gloria Cain may be doing now, is abominable. It reminds me of those trumped-up hostage videos where prisoners are forced to tell the camera how genteel and kind their kidnappers are, even while they have a gun to their head. Intended to redeem their husbands' honor, these spousal apologies have the opposite effect: Not only do we not believe the wife's story, pitying her for being betrayed. We feel more contempt for the cheating husband heartless enough to sacrifice her credibility, too, for the sake of political ambition. Either the wife if naïve, we tell ourselves, or she's Lady Macbeth with a big agenda that no sexual extra-marital slap-and-tickle is going to kill if she can help it.

Of course, we can never know the truth. Marriages are mysterious arrangements with ulterior motives, deep dark secrets, hidden agreements, and checkered pasts. We will never be sure what bitch-slapping really took place behind the Clintons' closed bedroom door, any more than we'll know how Jackie really confronted JFK about his peccadilloes or what testicle-crushing actually took place between Elizabeth Edwards and philandering John. When you marry a politician (or a CEO wannabe hero like Herman Cain), you hitch yourself to a heat-seeking missile that may or may not blow up in your face. As the wife of a man seeking public office, you become half of that husband's persona; indeed, you become its character klieglight, the love reflector, the intimate witness. Remember Nancy Reagan's famous gaze, the doe-eyed stare of adoration that the First Lady would fix on the President whenever she watched him speak? That gaze was intended to convince us that the man she was looking at was equally worthy of our devotion, just as Gloria Cain's incredulousness is meant to absolve her husband of guilt. Unfortunately, it isn't working.

Political wives would be wise to follow the dignified trail blazed by Jenny Sanford after her own public marital blow-up. Following news that her husband, then-Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina, was cheating on her with an Argentine lover (not hiking on the Appalachian trail), Mrs. Sanford broke with the tradition of wifely lying by standing up for herself and her children. "His political career is not a concern of mine," she told the press when asked why she wasn't coming out swinging in defense of her husband. "He's going to have to worry about that," Jenny Sanford said. "I'm worried about my family and the character of my children."

Gloria Cain should do the same. She doesn't deserve to be called a liar.