For the record, I thought Rep. Anthony Weiner’s apology was fairly strong. He accepted responsibility, admitted that he lied, vowed to change, and issued apologies to practically everyone in the universe, even the Democrats’ Darth Vader, Andrew Breitbart. (Who, in a surreal move, nearly hijacked Weiner’s air time…but that’s another post.) Weiner then subjected himself to endless cringe-inducing questions from the press rabble.
But there was one thing missing from Weiner’s exercise in apology PR, and that was his wife, Huma Abedin. Ms. Abedin’s absence, and her low profile throughout “Weinergate,” has been noted by the press. It’s indicative of an independent spouse’s prerogative, but also possibly of changing attitudes about the role of “the good wife” in crisis management strategy and public perception.
We’re accustomed to the supportive, unwavering spouse who literally stands by her man, — in public, in the most humiliating circumstances possible. Who can forget Silda Spitzer’s hollow gaze, or Dina McGreevy’s odd smile? The good wife has been an essential element of the reputation playbook. Observers, especially female observers, are meant to think, “If she can forgive him and stay by his side, then surely I can do the same.”
But things are changing. Part of it may be that high-achieving political wives like Maria Shriver and Huma Abedin have more to lose by expressing tacit approval, or at least forbearance, in the face of bad behavior. They have their own careers, goals, and identities that aren’t inextricably bound to their marital status.
But I also think that public opinion has evolved. The dutiful spouse who must demonstrate unquestionable loyalty to her husband is no longer a part of the crisis management handbook or the apology formula. A wife isn’t merely an accoutrement in the drama. Nor is she a lighting rod or surrogate for the female demographic.
Here’s one reason why I think public perception has changed. I’ll bet that if Ms. Abedin had appeared at her husband’s presser, we’d have thought, “Why does he have to drag her into this mess?” And rightly so. I’m not sure if the good wife is dead, but she’s definitely getting more independent, and more interesting.
And that’s a good thing.