The sorriest aspect of philandering politicians is often their wives, the spouses who stand by their man and play the victim in the service of political viability. The modern standard for political survival was set by former NY Senator, now Secretary of State Hillary Rodham, a player who may soon be in the on-deck circle for the Presidency. Still, Mrs. Clinton is just one of many. The modern indulgent political spouse has a long history going back to icons like Jackie Kennedy and Eleanor Roosevelt.
The list now includes Dina McGreevy, Silda Spitzer, Maria Shriver, and now Huma Abedin, Rep. Anthony Weiner's (D-NY) wife of less than a year. Apparently, Mr. Wiener didn't let an engagement, a honeymoon, his wife's pregnancy, or congressional duties interfere with "sexting" photos of his giblets to adoring "friends" on Twitter over the last few years. Wiener, 47 years of age, was widely expected to be the next mayor of New York City.
Indeed, opinion surveys reveal that Big Apple voters believe that Weiner should have continued to represent Brooklyn and Queens in Congress. Such sentiments are not surprising in a city where Woody Allen is a celebrity and Kitty Genovese is a chalk outline on a city street. A Good Samaritan in Queens is often someone who minds his business. Weiner calls his behavior "a bump in the road." He may be correct in a metropolis where the political class would build a mosque to memorialize the victims of Islamic fanaticism.
The Huma Abedin/Tony Weiner tale has a special irony. Huma is Mrs. Clinton's deputy chief of staff. The famously priapic Bill Clinton officiated at the recent Weiner nuptials on Long Island. More recently, while Anthony was getting roasted by the media, Mrs. Abedin Weiner was conveniently off on a trip to the Arab Emirates with Mrs. Clinton.
This is not to blame victims. Political wives are frequently represented as smart and capable in their own right. How could they not know? New Jersey Governor McGreevy was cheating with men, a low blow even by Jersey Shore standards. President Clinton was frolicking with an intern a floor below his wife and daughter in the White House. Governor Schwarzenegger had his maid and wife pregnant at the same time! Not wanting to know the truth is not the same as not knowing. And isn't feigned ignorance a not too subtle kind of enabling?
What used to be called a triangle is now more like a carousel. There are no victims in these liaisons -- just enablers and manipulators. Escorts and hookers have more integrity than indulgent wives. Silda Spitzer, Harvard Law '84, gave an interview where she blamed herself for Eliot's indiscretions. According to Mrs. Spitzer, "inadequate sex" on her part led her husband to sacrifice his career and her reputation.
The Press is often a co-conspirator when randy politicians feel the need to share their extra-marital seed. John Kennedy and his wannabe protégé, Bill Clinton, were serial swingers who thrived with indulgent or partisan media. Ben Bradlee of the Washington Post, with bimbo eruptions of his own, covered for Jack Kennedy; and Bill Clinton weathered impeachment with the help of a servile wife and newspapers like the Post. Hillary claimed that her husband was the victim of a "vast right-wing conspiracy" and that canard was spread far and wide by a sympathetic Press. In fact, Clinton never needed any real enemies. Like Tony Weiner, his real bête noire was always lurking in his skivvies.
It would be a mistake to conclude that political wives or matrons of convenience are facilitating narcissism. The hitch isn't self-love so much as insecurity and self-loathing. Poltroons like Weiner love their image and still hate themselves. Indeed, one of Weiner's Twitter conversations contained a telling remark, an offensive stereotype about the sexual reticence of Jewish women. Weiner is married to a Muslim.
Back in the Bill Clinton era, White House advisor Betsey Wright coined the term "bimbo eruptions" to describe a long list of presidential gal pals. How feminism is advanced by defending a serial predator and his co-dependent wife is still a mystery. Ms. Wright's notable contribution to the exploitive sex debate was to cast all "other" women as floozies. Wright got it wrong; the true bimbos are the female enablers -- those wives, daughters, sisters, mothers, and female groupies who defend creepy behavior and thus make politicians like Clinton and Weiner likely.
If just one high-profile political woman kicked someone like Weiner, Spitzer, or Clinton to the curb, a whole new standard of behavior might be set in Washington. Women are a voting majority, yet spineless girls often defend the indefensible and continue to make porcine politics possible.
Hillary Clinton is the pin-up for an American idiom that might charitably be described as bimbo feminism, a novel kind of electoral survival morality. The print media can hardly write a story about infidelity in any political marriage without mentioning Hillary's trail by Bill.
Under the Rodham ethic, you stand by your man, play the victim, and maintain your political possibilities. Low self-esteem and poor taste in men might not be the most obvious political assets; but, they seem to work for the Press and enough voters. The victimized Mrs. Clinton clung famously to her husband's coattails and now stands poised to become the Democratic Party standard-bearer for the Oval Office. Who knows? Her protégé, Mrs. Huma Abedin Weiner, another victim au gauche, may parlay her marital drama into a Cabinet post also -- in a second Clinton administration.
While in denial, Congressman Weiner claimed that his actions online did not break the law, violate congressional rules, or hinder his ability to honor his oath to defend the Constitution. It's hard to believe a man who doesn't defend a pregnant wife worries much about defending the abstractions in the Constitution.
Anthony Weiner has not left the public square without performing a public service. He now becomes the poster boy for virtual onanism, a living model of the pitfalls of pornography, self-promotion, and the infinite possibilities for exhibitionism and professional suicide in cyberspace. Weiner doesn't just look at himself in the mirror; he is also a reflection of the pitfalls of democracy and the gullibility of voters. Like his loyal voters, apparently, Anthony was well below average and proud of it.
Marriage and democracy offer blessings and curses. Sometimes we get the champions we need, yet more often we choose or elect the mountebanks we deserve.