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Political Ornaments

Desperate House (and Senate) Wives

by DAVID MACARAY

Whether the husband is a Democrat or Republican, it doesn’t really matter. I’ve always felt sympathy for the loyal wife of the politician who disgraces himself by getting caught consorting with prostitutes, or circulating photographs of his private parts, or fornicating with interns. No matter what the sexual mischief, it’s always the wife—the innocent, beleaguered, unindicted party—who’s called upon to clean up the mess.

We all know how it works. As soon as the media gets wind of the scandal, the elected official immediately shifts into damage-control mode. This involves, initially, pleading total ignorance, then denying it outright, then back-pedaling, then admitting to it, then, finally, dragging his wife (dressed conservatively, smiling bravely, shoulders back, chin up) in front of the cameras and microphones, reducing her to a political ornament.

While most of us can appreciate a spontaneous affirmation of connubial allegiance, this spectacle of a wife being opportunistically paraded before the public is degrading. Take Anthony Weiner for example. In a moment of libidinous hilarity, he jeopardizes his political career by taking photographs of his penis and mailing them to various women. But it’s his innocent, self-respecting wife who gets dragged into the fray and is asked to lead the public relations offensive.

In 2001, I saw Congressman Gary Condit’s wife, Carolyn, stand bravely by her husband’s side as he vehemently denied having had an affair or anything to do with the disappearance and subsequent murder of his intern, Chandra Levy. Although Condit was eventually cleared as a murder suspect, the investigation revealed that he had, in fact, been romantically involved with Levy. Condit was in his early fifties, Levy in her early twenties.

It was a shattering blow to Carolyn Condit. It’s one thing to find out your husband is cheating on you; it’s a whole other deal to find out publicly, with the glare of lights and cameras in your face. Despite the infidelity, Carolyn reckoned their marriage was worth saving and chose to stay with him. Needless to say, the scandal ruined Condit’s political career. Last we heard, he was the owner/operator of an Arizona ice cream parlor.

I felt a similar twinge of compassion when I saw Lee Hart, wife of Senator Gary Hart, cringing at her husband’s side at a hastily arranged press conference where Hart feebly attempted to explain his relationship with Donna Rice, an affair that ultimately resulted in his withdrawal from the 1988 presidential primary. Because he couldn’t keep it in his pants, his loyal wife was pressured into publicly humiliating herself. (Fun fact: Hart was a former divinity student).

Which brings us back to Weiner. I’ve heard some of his defenders argue that what he did wasn’t “wrong.” It was tacky, adolescent, dumb and reckless, but not “wrong.” Given the era in which we live, pornography, phone sex, sexting, and sexually explicit flirting are basically harmless pastimes. Accordingly, the suggestion that he drop out of the NYC mayoral race is patently absurd (as of this writing, he’s still a candidate).

But what of Huma, Weiner’s wife? She may agree that the photos, by themselves, aren’t sufficient grounds for dropping out of the race, but it’s a fair bet she thinks what he did was “wrong”….wrong in every sense of the word. And despite Weiner’s libertine defenders, there’s someone else out there who thought it was wrong: Anthony Weiner himself.

If he didn’t think it was wrong, he wouldn’t have gone to such great lengths to conceal it, nor would he have lied repeatedly when first accused. But it isn’t Anthony Weiner’s face I’ll remember as the couple faced the glare of the cameras. It’s Huma’s face. Bravely smiling, chin up, shoulders back, terribly uncomfortable. Reduced to a political ornament.

David Macaray, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor”), was a former union rep.