WASHINGTON -- She had the ghastly, frozen look of a prisoner in a hostage video.
Huma Abedin, who has the misfortune to be married to Anthony Weiner, has taken the uncomfortable stand-by-your-man news conference to an excruciating new level.
Some people, including some people of the female persuasion, have looked at Abedin’s performance and decreed it brave. In a way, that is correct: It takes extraordinary composure and dignity not only to suffer through your husband’s oops-I-did-it-again confession but to speak as the chief witness for the defense.
We have seen before the aggrieved, stricken wife, standing silent testament by her man -- think Silda Wall, wife of Eliot Spitzer, Round One, The Resignation. We have seen the conspicuous-by-her-absence wife -- think Silda Wall, Round Two, The Campaign for Comptroller.
Abedin took us into less familiar territory. Oddly, given Abedin’s career by Hillary Clinton’s side, perhaps the most apt comparison was to the Gennifer Flowers-inspired joint “60 Minutes” interview at which the soon-to-be first lady proclaimed that she was not “some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette.”
Still, the difference between Slick Willie and Carlos Danger, and therefore the difference between Hillary Clinton and Huma Abedin, is the distance between plausible deniability (even to oneself) and uncontroverted proof.
Post-Monica, at least post-Bill’s Monica confession -- you did not see Hillary Clinton making the case for her husband. You saw her, back to the camera, with Chelsea bridging the physical and emotional distance between husband and wife as they trudged to the helicopter en route to Martha’s Vineyard.
Abedin planted herself front and center. “Anthony has made some horrible mistakes, both before he resigned from Congress and after. But I do very strongly believe that that is between us and our marriage,” she said, taking care to stress the first person plural.
This was The Good Wife visits Oprah’s couch. “It took a lot of work and a whole lot of therapy to get to a place where I could forgive Anthony,” she said. “It was not an easy choice in any way. But I made the decision that it was worth staying in this marriage. That was a decision I made for me, for our son, and for our family.”
That’s their choice -- it’s Abedin’s, really -- and, as everyone has observed, what goes on inside a marriage is a delicate and private mystery.
Yet that is precisely the point: private. If “Anthony has made some horrible mistakes,” and that is putting it kindly, his wife is free to forgive him.
But she cannot expect that waving the magic wand of wifely absolution can be the end of the non-affair. Because by choosing to run for mayor -- by choosing to run for mayor when he knew that his Internet sexcapades had lasted long after his resignation, even after he had assured People magazine last summer that he was “a very, very different person” -- Weiner has made his nasty private business the public’s business as well. Certainly the New York City public’s business.
Abedin’s acceptance is hers to bestow, but she cannot force it on us. Not when Weiner acknowledges that his sexting is “in our rear-view mirror, but it’s not far.” How many car crashes are enough before you yank the driver’s license?
It was impossible to watch Abedin without feeling compassion for her deja vu moment. In their comeback interview with The New York Times Magazine, Abedin described what the first revelations were like: “I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I was in an airplane really high in the air, and all of a sudden, the plane is coming apart at the seams, and I am just doing all I can to hang on for dear life.” Imagine reliving that.
But, and I want to express this as kindly as I can, it was also impossible to watch Abedin without wondering: Really, this campaign is in the best interests of your child? Staying in your marriage might be. Putting your family back in the position of having his father’s behavior exhumed -- especially when you seem to have known that there was more to come out -- seems reckless.
Writing in Harper’s Bazaar, Abedin describes how having a son “made us ... worry about things we never thought about before” and links Jordan’s birth to the decision to run for mayor.
“Putting yourself out there comes with a cost,” she concludes. That is a cost that both Weiner and Abedin ought to have weighed before launching this foolhardy comeback bid.