Huma Abedin caused quite a stir when she walked into Anthony Weiner’s press conference yesterday. How could she show up with her husband at the moment he had been exposed—yet again—for unfaithful and lewd sexual behavior? Abedin is the most recent in the seemingly never ending line of political wives who step into the spotlight and face public scrutiny when their husband’s sex scandals go public. Elizabeth Edwards, Silda Spitzer, Darlene Ensign, Jenny Sanford—each had to decide whether or not she would would stand by her husband when he opened up about his behavior to the media. Abedin has made her choice. But before you judge her, here are four things you need to know.
1. Abedin’s mentor is Hillary Clinton. Of all women, Clinton knows what it means to weather a political sex scandal, and to weather it to her personal and professional benefit. She chose to stay married to the President of the United States during the country’s most graphic and jarring sex scandal, and now, two decades later, she is favored to be a 2016 presidential frontrunner. Clinton knows how to weigh the objective benefits and downsides of marriage versus separation when it comes to one’s own political future, and she has been able to see how the consequences have played out in the short and long term. If there was one call Huma made to weigh how to handle the “Carlos Danger” revelations when they came, there’s a good chance it was to Hillary.
2. Abedin herself is a savvy political operative. You don’t get to be Clinton’s confidant and senior advisor by making uncalculated professional or personal choices. Until her husband’s mayoral campaign, Abedin’s calculation was to stay largely behind the scenes. “For years I spent my professional life at the back of the room, far from the stage or the microphone,” she writes in an upcoming Harper’s Bazaar feature. “People tell me they’re surprised to see me out on the campaign trail, I understand because, trust me, no one is more surprised than I am.” Emerging to speak to the press yesterday was no casual choice. The first time Weinergate broke in 2011, she—like Clinton—chose to not appear with her husband. She would not be the beleaguered and devastated Silda Spitzer who stood next to Eliot in 2008. Yesterday Abedin knew the decision she was making to speak on her husband’s behalf, and, it as a choice that most likely takes into account her own political future, potentially as chief of staff to the nation’s first woman president, as well as her personal future, as mother to a 20-month old, Jordan.
3. Abedin did not “stand by” her husband at yesterday’s press conference. She stood diagonally off to the side from him. She did not hold his hand. She did not touch him, and her body language made sure he did not touch her. Her posture seemed uncomfortable, yet resolute. She was present, yes, but she was her own person. And her smile—as it always does—stole the show. She was practically radiant at times, and her presence and demeanor prompted cries for “Huma for Mayor” across social media.
4. Abedin also made her own decision to stay married to her husband, and she made the choice, she said, “for me, for our son, and for our family.” Her tone was clear—she meant what she said. To sincerely support a women’s right to choose their own future, the public has to let Huma be Huma, to use a Josiah Bartlet phrase. Some would say it is a pathetic decision. But the reality is that women all over the country are trying to figure out how to move forward with their lives and with their families lives when they discover their husbands have deviant sexual practices. If the scale goes from Elizabeth Edwards and Silda Spitzer to Jenny Sanford and Hillary Clinton, Huma Abedin puts herself in the company of the latter. “Launching this campaign was not an easy decision for our family to make,” she tells Harpers. “Putting yourself out there comes with a cost.” Abedin’s cost-benefit analysis deserves its own defense.