It may have been entirely personal, but it also signaled an important shift in political culture: when Rep. Anthony Weiner faced the television cameras to admit that he had tweeted those crotch shots and lied about it, his wife was nowhere in sight. And instead of taking her absence as a sign of no-confidence, I’m guessing that most people were thinking, “Good for her.”
After witnessing the excruciating scene of an ashen Silda Spitzer standing by Eliot’s side, after two seasons of the Spitzer-inspired drama The Good Wife, with its smart, independent heroine, it would have seemed ludicrous for Weiner’s wife to stand by silently. In an age of nearly-constant political sex scandals – John Edwards, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who hasn’t had one? – we have all become more attuned to the pain of the wronged spouse, more cynical about the charade of solidarity.
Weiner apologized to his wife during the press conference and said that when he confessed to her she told him she loved him. She’s “getting back to work,” he said, but of course didn’t mention what that work is: his wife, Huma Abedin, is deputy chief of staff for Hillary Clinton, the ultimate Good Wife. The Weiners’ wedding ceremony was even performed by Bill Clinton, who joked to the press that day that marrying a politician is difficult because it’s “easy to distrust them.” Really, sometimes the ironies just write themselves.
The Clinton scandal (relatively petty despite the Oval Office setting; impeaching him was off-the-charts ridiculous) landed in a different media era, though. Weiner, supposedly a smart guy attuned to social media, suddenly looks wildly out of touch. Tweeting photos and expecting them to remain private was Dumb; I wouldn’t even put my email address in a direct message. Lying about it was Dumber. How smart is a politician who flat-out lies on CNN and thinks he can get away with it? Never mind the Clinton years; Weiner forgot one of the fundamental lessons of Watergate: it’s the cover-up that will get you.
But whatever the political fallout for Weiner, it’s a relief to think – or at least hope – we’ve moved beyond the idea that hurt and probably furious wives have to show up on stage and act like Good Soldiers. Now if we could only get past the inane idea that strong marriages make a candidate better qualified, that would be real progress.
Meanwhile, take a look at Rachel Maddow and her nifty chart: The Post-Bill Clinton Modern American Political Sex-Scandal Conequence-O-Meter (chart begins about 4:50 in ).