After Tuesday’s revelation about his post-resignation sexting and the ensuing press conference to deny its newsworthiness, it seems unlikely that Anthony Weiner could win anything — the mayoralty, a seat on his co-op board, or even the New Jersey Powerball. The same cannot be said for his wife. Huma has won the hearts of many in the commentariat, not least Tina Brown, who tweeted Wednesday: “I say Huma for mayor. She has all the qualities he doesn’t.”
Why do they love Huma? After all, this is a woman who has been enabling the ambitions of a husband almost universally understood as mendacious and narcissistic. True, that’s practically the job description of the political wife. But Huma went beyond the customary conjugal responsibilities. She orchestrated the rehabilitation of her husband’s public image and his campaign to lead the world’s premier city, starting with a willfully deceptive spread in People in which she assured the public, “Anthony has spent every day since trying to be the best dad and husband he can be” — even as his fingers twitched in preparation for his next sext.
In part, Huma worship represents an understandable siding with the wronged wife. In the required press conference that is the climax of our National Adultery Ritual, misbehaving politicians have always had to play to women. They know that their female constituents see them as archetypal bounder-villains and that they identify with the victimized spouse. To reassure women that they are suitably repentant and worthy of another chance, they make sure their wives are at their side when they take the podium. (Jenny Sanford is an interesting exception here.) They know that if we can be convinced she forgives him, we have permission to do the same. Hence, all eyes and affections are with the wife.
But Huma’s appeal to media bigwigs like Brown goes far beyond compassion. Even before she became Mrs. Carlos Danger, she was a star. CNN’s Dana Bash said “she is almost like Madonna or Cher here in Washington.” Bash doesn’t have her simile quite right; Huma is Kennedy glamour resurrected. She brings exotic beauty and a hint of Oxbridge intelligence — and of course cosmopolitan liberalism — to a town full of heartland men in ill-fitting brown suits and southern women in fire-engine-red blazers. Even during this Hell Week, Huma has managed to project such an unusual combination of elegance, composure, and vulnerability à la Jackie that it was tempting to take her laughable plea for privacy at face value.
And so many influential fans found reasons to applaud what they would have scorned in a woman with different politics and hair. “I think she was brave,” MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski tweeted. “Brave and completely committed to him,” her colleague Andrea Mitchell agreed. They spoke of her “dignity” (Slate). They convinced themselves they heard “eloquence” and “truly amazing” “persuasive[ness] (Chris Hayes) in the therapeutic language that has become boilerplate in these circumstances. (“Our marriage has its ups and downs.” “I made the decision it was worth staying with my marriage.” “We are moving forward.”)
Clearly Huma’s Camelot glamour had gotten the better of them. I have no idea what lies deep in the heart of Ms. Abedin. Perhaps she truly loves her husband. Perhaps she really believes he has successfully wrestled his demons. Perhaps — though this seems absurd on the face of it — she is genuinely “proud to be married to him.”
But I do know a woman of substance would have sat her husband down and said: “Look, honey. Give it a rest. Work in an orphanage for a while. Or maybe take a job on an oil rig. Read some philosophy — or the Bible. Look within. You’re not ready for primetime.” Instead, Huma encouraged him. He wanted to be mayor so he should be mayor. Never mind a public already cynical about politics who would find in the not-yet-released sexts even more sustenance for their dark frame of mind. Never mind the likelihood that in the future her beloved, assuming he is genuinely sext-free at the moment, would lapse into his old ways — surely the protégé of Hillary Clinton should wonder about that — and would once again drag the public through the sewage of his private fantasies. What was the civic good compared with Anthony Weiner’s ambitions?
Pace Tina Brown, Huma shares many of her husband’s qualities. But here’s the thing: She looks awesome at a press conference.