The Exposure of Anthony Weiner's Political Wife
The headlines, the jokes, the late-afternoon news conference were all about him. Yet standing there in her black cardigan, she was somehow the main attraction.
He had been through the shaming pressers before, back in 2011 as news of his prurient online behavior emerged. He had been through them alone -- and noticeably so. The Washington Post declared at the time that "her absence at his side may signal the end of the humiliating stand-by-your-man appearance by political wives."
Yesterday, Huma Abedin became a stand-by-your-man political wife.
The alternating smiles, reflective gazes and moments of seeming embarrassment exposed her as new to the beat. The forthcoming days will reveal how long she'll be on it: Just hours after Anthony Weiner, in the wake of more lewd messages surfacing, insisted he’ll be staying in the race for mayor of New York City, the New York Times editorial board called for him to drop out.
Abedin had been inching toward such a moment for a year. Last July, she spoke to People magazine, explaining, "It took a lot of work to get where we are today, but I want people to know we're a normal family." Not exactly: At the time of the interview, Weiner apparently had still not ended his online behavior. Abedin spoke at greater length a few months ago in a New York Times Magazine piece that more or less launched her husband's mayoral bid. She made a cameo in the video that officially announced the campaign. She wrote a piece for September’s issue of Harper’s Bazaar. As the campaign has gathered steam, she has accelerated the pace of her journey into the public eye, and her public voice has acquired increasing resonance.
Then there she was, standing beside him at the news conference, playing that dreaded supporting role. She was not required to speak -- the stand-by-your-man part is pretty self-explanatory -- and given her history, few expected her to. So when she did speak, she suddenly became the protagonist.
The move was political but unnecessary. The words were at once a campaign speech and a heartfelt admission. If anything, they helped distract from her husband's predictably embarrassed waffling. She would have come across as more of a strong, independent woman had she had her own news conference in the coming days or weeks -- better yet, one with her obedient husband silently by her side.
But Abedin the strong, independent woman who worked in Hillary Clinton's State Department is not out in public. Only Abedin the campaigner and disgraced politician's wife is. Still, the evolution from one to the other can happen rapidly. In 1992, Clinton supported her husband, then a presidential contender, against allegations of infidelity: "I’m sitting here because I love him, and I respect him, and I honor what he’s been through and what we’ve been through together," she said on "60 Minutes."
"I love him, I have forgiven him, I believe in him," Abedin said yesterday. "And as we have said from the beginning, we are moving forward." It was almost as though her boss had helped prepare the remarks.
(Zara Kessler is an assistant editor and producer for Bloomberg View. Follow her on Twitter.)