Anthony Weiner, the New York mayoral candidate, says that his decision to stay in the race despite another sex-chat scandal “is not about me. It’s about the citizens of New York.”
Unfortunately, that is just not the case. It’s about the mayoral race, yes, but even more so, his decision is inextricably linked to the perception of the role of women in our culture.
Up until Weiner’s cringe-worthy news conference last week, I had felt sorry for his wife, Huma Abedin, even though I couldn’t understand how she was able to condone his online antics in the first place. I have nothing against Abedin. I like her: She is a lovely, gracious, intelligent woman. I ache for her need to come to the rescue of this man who has betrayed her so often and will likely do it again. I ache for all women who find themselves in this position. And yet, there she stood in front of the cameras, this modern American career woman, standing by her man, saying she had forgiven him, loved him and believed in him. Just what exactly does she believe in? The only thing she can believe in for sure is that he will continue his infidelity.
Though her friends say she is strong and resolute and defiant, sadly she makes all women look like weak and helpless victims. She was not standing there in a position of strength. It was such a setback for women everywhere.
After Weiner was forced to resign his congressional seat in 2011, he and his wife faded into the background to repair their marriage and have a baby. Last summer, they gave a heartwarming interview to People magazine and sat for pictures with the baby, Abedin saying Weiner was devoting his time to being the best dad and husband he could be. He was, in fact, sending lewd pictures to a 22-year-old woman, offering to get her an apartment and begging to meet with her, under the name Carlos Danger.
When the first scandal hit, I just thought Weiner was a grandiose, narcissistic, entitled creep. Now it is clear he must be mentally ill as well. That he has no respect for women, including his own wife, is also clear.
Yet when he confessed his newest transgressions to his wife last fall, what did she do? She joined him a few months later for yet another interview, this time for The New York Times’ magazine. Abedin agreed that her husband should run for mayor of New York. She knew full well that the old stories would be rehashed and, in all probability, the new ones would come out. So why did she do it?
Michael McManus, president of Marriage Savers and author of the online column Ethics and Religion, sees Weiner as the villain here. McManus says that Weiner should have heeded the Book of Proverbs, which is full of warnings for men who stray. He quotes Proverbs 6:12-15: “A scoundrel and villain, who goes about with a corrupt mouth, who winks with his eye, signals with his feet and motions with his fingers, who plots evil with deceit in his heart — he always stirs up dissension, therefore disaster will overtake him in an instant; he will suddenly be destroyed — without remedy.”
Yet I can’t help blaming Abedin for condoning this behavior and allowing this charade to continue. The Washington Post reported last week that Abedin, a longtime key aide to Hillary Clinton, has been soliciting money from Clinton donors, who are too afraid of alienating Hillary Clinton to turn Abedin down. Then there was the stunning news conference in which she defended her husband. I understand that one woman’s humiliation is another woman’s power play, but I can’t see how what Abedin did could be a good example for any woman anywhere.
“I do very strongly believe that that is between us and our marriage,” she said then. She says the marriage has taken a lot of hard work and a lot of therapy. She says she is standing by Weiner for her family and her child. Does she really think her son will benefit from looking back on his mother’s excruciating display of lack of self-respect? Does she believe that the fact that she is essentially condoning Weiner’s behavior sets a good example for her son? She clearly has no line Weiner can’t cross.
We thought we had seen the last of this kind of women’s humiliation with Silda Wall Spitzer. You don’t see her out on the hustings with her husband, former New York governor Eliot Spitzer, who is running for city comptroller. Who can forget the painful scene of her standing next to her husband after he was caught with a prostitute and resigned from office? Can you imagine her doing that again, especially if he had done it again? She now reportedly has told friends that she’s divorcing him, not surprising since his campaign has brought up again the pain she and her children suffered.
Perhaps Weiner has changed Abedin’s view of what is moral and ethical behavior. Or could it be that she’s afraid of him? But neither of these fits her actions past and present. The only possibly reason I can guess for Abedin’s embrace of her husband is that she wants the power as much as he does. As Clinton’s assistant, she has seen the limos, the planes, the salutes and the flags, and that is the life she aspires to. She thought she had it when she married the wildly ambitious, though widely disliked, congressman. She saw the Clintons rise above infidelity, and she fooled herself into thinking she and Weiner could also ride this one out.
When will all of this end? The only way out for Abedin, as I see it, is to give up being the “Good Wife,” dump Weiner and run for office on her own. Both Weiner and Abedin have certainly not learned any lessons from another verse in Proverbs: “A good name is more desirable than riches. To be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”
Sally Quinn anchors The Washington Post’s On Faith online discussion and writes a religion-focused column.