As the many glowing profiles of Huma Abedin in recent months have noted, she learned a lot working as Hillary Clinton's right-hand woman since the 1990s. But maybe the biggest lesson Abedin learned was not just how to help her husband survive a sex scandal, but how to launch her own political career.
On Wednesday, spurred on by the latest turn in her husband Anthony Weiner's serial online sexual embarrassments, Harper's Bazaar published an excerpt of an essay by Abedin that will run its September issued, titled "The Good Wife," in which she explains why she decided to stand by her man. Weiner resigned from Congress in 2011 after his first sexting scandal and then apologized on Tuesday for newly released sexts exchanged last summer under the name Carlos Danger. The essay comes with a portrait of Abedin looking approachable and friendly in a feminine green dress, ruffled and belted at the waist. "Three years ago I was a single workaholic," Abedin confesses. But a lot has changed since then:
My friends will tell you that I don’t like calling attention to myself. For years I spent my professional life at the back of the room, far from the stage or the microphone. I kept my personal life private, even as the people I was close to lived in the public eye. But all that changed two years ago, and Anthony and I have spent these past few years working through the very private challenges we faced on a very public stage. So when 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.
No one? That's hard to believe if you've followed Weiner's public rehabilitation, reportedly carefully managed by Abedin. First they gave their baby photos to People. (Weiner was still sexting back then.) Then they gave a confessional interview to The New York Times Magazine. Then Abedin recorded a campaign ad with Weiner, then she gave an interview to New York that resulted in a glowing profile.
And of course, yesterday, she literally stood by her man at a difficult-to-watch press conference, her first, and, basically, said there's nothing to see here. "We discussed all of this before Anthony decided he would run for mayor, so really what I want to say is, I love him, I have forgiven him, I believe in him," she said. What many saw, though, was a wonderful performance by Abedin herself, adding to the chorus of people urging Abedin to run for office herself.
"I feel for Anthony's wife Huma. Life and love is so complicated. I think she was brave," MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski tweeted. Her colleague Andrea Mitchell responded, "brave and completely committed to him. If he gets to a runoff it is thanks to Huma's 1st news conference appearance." Slate's Hanna Rosin said Abedin offered a new model for wronged political wives — neither the silent sufferer nor out for revenge. "I thought she sounded real, and plainspoken, and, even in that excruciatingly awkward situation, she retained the poise and dignity that I’ve always admired in her," The Washington Post's Sheila Weller writes. Even The Daily Mail was nice.
In fact, Abedin was a better politician than Weiner. "Weiner was thoroughly unconvincing," Rosin says. "He sounded rote, impatient, almost bored." But Abedin? "Abedin by contrast claimed she was nervous, like any woman would be, but as soon as she started to speak she was calm, composed, and utterly natural, even as she told a room full of reporters what a 'whole lot of therapy' it took to keep her marriage together." And, according to Weller, maybe her decision to stick with Weiner shows she's even more wonderful than we first thought: "Some very accomplished women who make head-scratching marital choices may even be exhibiting a special kind of strength."
Hillary Clinton, too, went through many somewhat humiliating steps to help her husband's career (including allowing herself to be photographed dancing with him in a bathing suit) which in the long run helped her own. Her public approval ratings shot up. She was elected to the Senate. When she ran for president, and her husband said embarrassing things, she only got more sympathy. "It would take ten Freudians to explain what Bill Clinton did to Hillary in South Carolina," an aide told the authors of Game Change. But it would only take a couple political strategists to explain why she stuck with him.