You see her on TV and in the papers looking sad and forlorn, standing by her man when no one else will, even though he doesn’t deserve it. She is a familiar figure who evokes many different feelings. Some pity her. Some snicker.
She is the wife of the fallen political figure, or, more specifically, a political figure brought down by sex scandal. We’ve seen a lot of her in recent months. First Dina McGreevey stood by her hubby when he announced he was resigning as the Governor of New Jersey after it was revealed he had an inappropriate relationship with a male staffer. Then Suzanne Craig stood by her Senator husband as he fended off allegations that he approached an undercover police officer for sex in an airport men’s room. Even Cindy McCain had to smile dutifully for the cameras while rumors surfaced that her aged husband had carried on romantically with a lobbyist during his last presidential run eight years ago. We’ve seen Silda Spitzer standing by her husband, (looking like the poster girl for Valium) as he admits his involvement in a high-priced prostitution ring.
“I’ve forgiven him … can’t you?”
By standing beside their treacherous husbands at press conferences, these women are supposedly sending a message to the public: “I’ve forgiven him…can’t you, too?” But the real message they’re sending is one about the phoniness of American politics.
Elected officials are plastic people without human emotions. They don’t act the way real people act. You’re telling me that Silda Spitzer found it in her heart to forgive her husband an $80,000, 12-month hooker binge just hours after news of it broke? As Jay Leno put it, if Spitzer were a plumber instead of governor the only thing you’d see of his wife were her SUV tracks across his forehead.
There’s been a lot written about wives of philandering politicians standing by their men (though the media has yet to come up with a catchy moniker for this pop culture phenomenon. I’ll offer “Philandered First Ladies” or “Stand By Your Man Politicas” though both are admittedly clunky). “Expert” psychologists have offered their opinions — these women want to honor their marriage vows, they want to stand by the man they love even though it hurts, for the greater good of the marriage and the welfare of their children.
But the real reason is much simpler – and sinister. Political wives are part of a political machine. They not only promise to love, honor and cherish, they promise to play a role. That role comes with a lot of perks and power (what girl wouldn’t want to be a First Lady?) but it also carries the potential pitfall of major public humiliation. It looks bogus when wives stand by their husbands during painful public apologies. It not only undermines the integrity of their marriage, it makes you question the credibility of a political system that demands such bizarre public mea culpas. What else in politics is false? What ulterior motives do these women have in standing by their men during their hour of shame?
All Hail, Queen Hillary!
Hillary Clinton knows. She’s the Queen of Philandered First Ladies. No doubt, there’s a part of her that believes she deserves to be the first woman president simply for having endured the humiliation of the Monica Lewinsky scandal (and Paula Jones…and Gennifer Flowers…) No doubt, there’s a segment of the voting public that believes the same thing.
But, like many of Hillary’s public reactions, there was something calculated, almost robotic, about her response to her husband’s affair. Just once I’d like to see one of these women react in an honest fashion and clock their husband over the head with a frying pan during one of these live press conferences. At least we’d see an honest emotion out of someone in politics. That’s the lady I’d vote for.
It’s interesting to note that with all of the philandering male politicians we’ve seen throughout history, we have yet to see a female politician involved in a sex scandal (unless you go back to Cleopatra or Catherine the Great — and most of that was propaganda written by their political enemies). There’s never been a press conference where a wimpy husband is forced to smile placidly as his powerful wife tries to explain away details of an illicit affair.
Where is the equality in politics? Sure, politics is still a male-dominated arena, but over the last 30 years the number of women in Congress has quadrupled, and they now make up one of every six members. Considering some studies show that women are just as likely to cheat as men, odds are there are a couple of political ladies stepping out on their husbands. Yet there’s never been one caught up in a sex scandal.
That says something about the women we are voting into office. Either they’re more trustworthy that their male counterparts … or they’re better at keeping secrets.
Originally published in Wayne TODAY, March 2008