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His Poor Wife


No, I am not referring to the Long-Suffering Diana, though some might like to make that case. I am referring instead to the recent spate of disgraced politicians and others, those whose sexual shenanigans, real or alleged, have been exposed for all the world to snicker and gawk at, to mull over in glee or in dudgeon.

Larry Craig is not the last, only the latest, and let me be even-handed about this. While homosexual behavior appears to be the peccadillo du jour (Larry Craig, Ted Haggard, Mark Foley, James McGreevey), we have had a couple of heteros acting out, too (David Vitter and—lest we forget—Bill Clinton). I’ll make this bipartisan, too. Conservatives do not have a lock on such behavior (much as we liberals are enjoying the hypocrisy factor), Clinton and McGreevey being Democrats.

Some, like Craig, are defiant and denying (which is not quite the same as being “in denial”). Others, like McGreevey and Vitter, decide, for moral or strategic reasons, to go the full confession route. And as for Bill Clinton, I forget exactly how that whole bizarre episode finally played out. He seemed to finesse his strategy as he went along. As to outcomes, it looks as if Vitter is going to weather the storm, and the amazingly resilient Clinton survived an impeachment trial and is now a respected elder statesman (and they called Reagan the Teflon president!). If there is a lesson here, it seems to be that despite the graphic details that came out about Clinton and “that woman,” your forgive and forget chances are better if you are dallying with the opposite, not the same, sex, gay pride notwithstanding.

These are famous and powerful men, and so a ritual must be observed, by which I mean the obligatory press conference cum confession or defense. We have it down pretty well now: the dais and lectern, the palisade of microphones, the television and press cameras, the eager or jaded reporters. Sinner X, as we’ll call him for homogeneity and brevity, steps up to take his punishment or defy his accusers. He (usually) concludes by announcing that he will regretfully resign, for the greater good of the party or the ministry. He is righteously innocent, but has become a “distraction.”

And almost inevitably, one step to the side and two steps back, is the Wife—Suzanne Craig, Wendy Vitter, Gayle Haggard, Dina McGreevey—looking stoic or wearing a frozen smile, dressed like a demure matron, poised like a loyal helpmeet. It was Diana, in fact, who said, “His poor wife,” a thought I had often had myself, watching those painful news conferences.

What must they be thinking, standing in the glare and listening to hubby drone on? Are they feeling rage? shock? sorrow? forlorn hope (surely this is a nightmare, a mistake)? Or are they simply pretending to be somewhere else—that would be my advice—imagining a skiing vacation or the dandling of a grandchild? What must they be thinking? (“That miserable SOB has finally gone too far and it serves him right”? “’Till death do us part,’ and I feel like I’m dying right here, right now”? “The children—I’ve got to hold this marriage together for the children”?).

Hillary, like Bill, is a special case. A case-hardened political in-fighter, she already had a public life of her own. The popular perception of the fall-out goes something like this: “Like it or not, we’re a good team, Charmin’ Billy. I’ll stick with you and you—every retired guy needs a hobby—will see to it that I get into the White House in 2008.”

Clearly, some people were thinking along the same lines I was. An Associated Press story from last week asks, in effect, “What advice might Dina Matos McGreevy have for Suzanne Craig?” Matos McGreevey was at first the loyal wife (“I was in shock…I had 48 hours, 72 hours to try to make sense of what he was telling me.”) but is now pursuing a divorce, an aggressive and “contentious” one. She herself had turned to Hillary Clinton for advice (a very select support group, but we seem to have them for every other contingency). Matos McGreevey essentially would pass on Hillary’s advice: Get your own counsel. Don’t listen to your husband or his advisors or anybody else. Don’t be bullied into a quick decision.

Some (Wendy Vitter, Gayle Haggard, Hillary Clinton) stay, for whatever reasons they can conjure up. Or at least they have stayed so far. Others, like Dina Matos McGreevey, go.

Matos McGreevey put the injustice nicely: “She [Suzanne Craig in this case] is a victim of the choices he’s made.”

It’s been my experience that, by and large, women are simply better human beings than men are. Perhaps we men just have too much evolutionary baggage that should have been checked at Security, but that’s a wonk for another weekend.

That difference, however—the tomcatting husband and the dazed and loyal wife transfixed in the merciless glare—that’s what makes me doubly sad and doubly angry.



Meet Your Macinstructor

Jerome Shea is an emeritus professor of English at the University of New Mexico, where he still teaches his classical tropes course every fall and his prose style course every spring. He has been the Weekend Wonk since January of 2007. His email is shea@macinstruct.com.


 
                          





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