Mansplaining disclosure: The following item is written by a man, analyzing the political progress of a woman, and thus can be easily dismissed if you’re the type of person who dismisses such commentary.
Two days after Anthony Weiner’s press conference on his post-resignation sexy chats, the media has reached consensus: Huma Abedin rescued her husband. Karen Tumulty and Jason Horowitz write that Abedin was “rejecting humiliation for defiance,” and quotes Jenny Sanford, a fan of that approach—”My heart goes out to her.” In a piece for Harper’s Bazaar, half-memoir and half-press release, Abedin informs us that she loves her husband, and that “launching this campaign was not an easy decision for our family to make. Putting yourself out there comes with a cost.”
Please, spare us. Nobody forced the Weiner-Abedin clan to re-enter electoral politics. Nobody forced Abedin to go along with the stories that Weiner had fallen from grace in 2011 and gone on to be a devoted, chastened husband. Twice now, Weiner has used his personal life to sell himself as a more trustworthy politician. He did this after 2008, when he married Abedin, and he did it in 2012, after the birth of their kid. His 2013 campaign launch video began with a shot of the couple and the baby playing at home in the morning. “Every day starts right here,” said Weiner—who’s now insisting that his private life isn’t relevant to politics.
But back to Abedin. It’s very nice that her friends are feeling for her in this time of self-inflicted hardship. What, though, is missing from our politics if Abedin’s not in it? Before this week, she had a sterling reputation (based in part on how she didn’t appear at Weiner’s press conferences, but oh well) based on … what, exactly?
If you return to the early profiles that created Abedin’s image, they’re based on very little. The first big Abedin take-out ran in the New York Observer in April 2007, when the New York media was hungry for coverage of Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton. “Ms. Abedin is responsible for guiding the Senator from one chaotic event to the next and ensuring that the many hundreds of situations that arise at each—the photo ops, the handshakes, the speeches—go smoothly,” wrote Spencer Morgan.
The rest of the profile was a write-around—a very funny one—about how stylish and unflappable Abedin was. Oscar de La Renta: “I always say I don’t want to die without seeing [Huma] in a strapless dress.” Katia Dunn: “It’s not like she’s incredibly coiffed. She just looked very composed and confident in her natural beauty.” James Carville: “Her appearance is just like, ‘Hoh my God!’ She takes your breath away.” Some guy named Anthony Weiner: “I think there’s some dispute as to whether Huma’s actually human or not.”
Only toward the end of the piece did we learn that Abedin was respected for her expertise on the Middle East. “She is a person of enormous intellect with in-depth knowledge on a number of issues—especially issues pertaining to the Middle East,” said John McCain. But future profiles of Abedin skipped past that. In August 2007 Vogueprofiled Clinton’s aide—her “secret” weapon—and informed us that “her black Prada suit is wrinkle-free, her skin is flawless, and her long, luxurious hair is blow-dried into the kind of bouncy waves you see mostly in shampoo commercials.” Philippe Reines, who would go on to be Clinton’s spokesman at the State Department, added that “the women in our office definitely watch what Huma wears.”
What did we learn about Abedin’s policy chops? Not much, apart from how she accompanied Clinton to the hospital to comfort a 9/11 victim because she cares about people, not politics. No one who’s profiled Abedin has really bothered to tell why we should like her, only that other people really like her. This current round of Humamania is surfeited with praise that sounds sort of crazy when you actually read it. In “Two Cheers for the beleagured Huma Abedin,” Sheila Weller informs us that being a “body man” is gruelling work—OK, sure—and offers this example of Abedin’s steely reserve.
What really nailed it for me with Abedin was when, smack in the middle of her husband’s sex-texting scandal Part I, two years ago, she came home from a long, multi-Mideast-country foreign trip with Secretary of State Clinton, three or four months pregnant. Clinton’s plane arrived at the D.C. airport at around 6 a.m. Jet-lagged, pregnant, scandal-beset, at the end of a gargantuan work trip and a very long plane ride, and with the paparazzi hounding her car, Abedin drove herself to home, right into her parking garage.
Sorry, but what else was she supposed to do? Are we praising her because she didn’t run over a paparazzo or pull a Britney Spears and attack one of them with a golf club? For some reason—maybe it’s the “wrinkle-free suit”—Abedin gets extraordinary praise for doing the most ordinary of things.
Standing by your husband when he keeps disappointing you is, sadly, an ordinary thing. Making connections in D.C. and then cashing in on them is also pretty ordinary. The single most irritating aspect of the Weiner scandal is that we’re being asked to buy tickets for this third-rate psychodrama. The Weiner-Abedin marriage is to the Clinton marriage asSharknado is to Jaws.
David Weigel writes for Slate.