In the past, it was expected that the "good" wives of disgraced politicians would stand silently in the background, as their husbands made tearful apologies to the public. The first time the embattled New York City-mayoral hopeful Anthony Weiner copped an apology for tweet-cheating in 2011, his wife Huma Abedin made headlines for being absent. On Tuesday, at a press conference addressing new revelations of sexual misconduct, she not only stood by her man, but also spoke out for him.
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Politics is rife with cheating scandals, but it's rare to hear a betrayed wife defend her choices at the same time her husband rebukes his own. (At a 2007 press conference, Wendy Vitter, wife of Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter, told assembled reporters that she had forgiven her husband for his connection to a prostitution ring, but she's one of the very few.)
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To a certain extent, because Abedin is so accomplished herself, it's particularly confounding why she has stuck with Weiner and continues to ardently support him after two years of public humiliation and scandal (they have been married for only three years). She's a brilliant, ambitious 36-year-old—she'll celebrate her 37th birthday on Sunday, if she has the stomach for it. She served as Hillary Clinton's traveling chief of staff in during her 2008 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, and then under Clinton at the State Department.
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In a "first look" at an essay written for September's Harper's Bazaar released online on Wednesday, Abedin defended her husband in political terms. "So why am I doing this? Because Anthony has always been a smart, caring, and dedicated person, and while he's the same public servant who wants what's best for the people he represents, he is now something else—a better man," she wrote. "New Yorkers will have to decide for themselves whether or not to give him a second chance. I had to make that same decision for myself, for my son, for our family. And I know in my heart that I made the right one."
Her statement at the press conference struck a similar note. "We discussed all of this before he decided to run for mayor, so really what I want to say is, I love him, I have forgiven him, I believe in him, and as we have said from the beginning, we are moving forward," she said.
Weiner called Tuesday's press conference after a gossip and nightlife website called The Dirty published an interview with a young woman who alleged Weiner had an explicit online and telephone affair with her from July through November 2012—more than a year after he resigned from Congress when a naked Twitter picture of him surfaced. Abedin was pregnant at that time. In a July 2012 interview with People magazine that marked the beginning of his rehabilitation in the public eye, Weiner said "he'd tried to become a better person everyday," but now it appears that his tryst began the day after the story—along with a picture of Weiner, Abedin, and their 6-month-old son, Jordan, looking every inch the perfect, happy family—hit newsstands.
At the press conference Tuesday, Weiner said, "These things that I did were wrong and hurtful to my wife and caused us to go through many challenges in our marriage." He may have been in the spotlight, but all eyes were on Abedin, who stood slightly hunched about a foot away from Weiner, looking pale with dark circles under her eyes. She managed to smile weakly at him a few times while he spoke, before taking the microphone herself. "Our marriage has had its ups and its downs," she said. "It took a lot of work and a whole lot of therapy to get to the place where I can forgive Anthony. It was not an easy choice but I made the decision that it was worth staying in this marriage. It was a decision I made for me, my husband, and our son."
Weiner has no better political ally and advocate than his wife—and she's probably the only one who has a shot at saving his career. The underlying message to voters is: "If Weiner is so wonderful and amazing that even his wife, who knows him best, will keep him, then maybe his supporters should, too."
It's difficult to say whether Abedin is a world-class martyr who is very smart about her career but dumb about men, or an incredibly generous wife with a misunderstood husband who's truly worth fighting for. Another option is that she's as politically shrewd as Weiner himself. She started working for Hillary Clinton as an intern in 1996 and witnessed firsthand the first lady's stoic response (at least in public—Clinton has since described herself as outraged and devastated behind closed doors) to Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky and the political fallout that came after.
In an 8,000-word profile of Weiner and Abedin published by the New York Times Magazine in April, Weiner's brother Jason offers a clue to their endurance. He describes the two as "political animals" and elaborates, "If there's anyone who's genetically predisposed to be able to sustain the onslaught that came from without, it's these two…they can both move past the personal and be able to filter it….And the two of them together have been able to survive, maybe even thrive." Abedin may well be taking a page from the Clintons' playbook—it certainly worked for that particular power couple.