End the podium humiliation of political wives

The Baltimore Sun

Nausea, heartburn, headache, body pain and disorientation. Symptoms of the latest flu? No - just the look on the face of the latest woman to "stand by her man," Silda Wall Spitzer, replayed endlessly on TV.

In the 21st century, isn't it time for a man who has disgraced himself and his family to stand at the podium by himself? To stand and - as it were - take it like a man?

New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer's saga is only the latest in a centuries-long line of powerful men who find the need to divert their risk-taking behavior into their personal lives. Their fearlessness, which serves them so well in the public arena, often seems to erupt in unwelcome stories and forced admission of misdeeds when they are at the zenith of success in their lives.

Maybe it's just too boring at the top. Regardless of the reason, it now happens too often to not set some new standards for these ridiculous turns at the podium.

Enough of the wife standing by the unfaithful husband. Enough of the wife pretending they'll be together through thick and thin. Enough of the straying husband, political adviser, etc., insisting that for the good of the husband's career and reputation, the wife must stand next to the user of prostitutes, the man who doesn't know what the definition of "is" is, or the man who can't keep his own big feet in the public bathroom stall. Enough of being the accessory that signals that all is forgiven (or soon will be).

It's time to take a look at the intersection of public and private lives in a way that connects to reality, not some perception of 1950s sitcom life. If your husband has been sneaking around, the last think you want to do is stand next to him and share his self-inflicted humiliation before the world. If the story contains cigars or prostitutes, you're sick knowing what your children are about to know. If you love your husband anyway, and want to keep your marriage together, that's fine, and it should be your own personal business. But please, let's just not make the wifey pretend that it's all OK with her, when we know darn well that it is not.

It is demeaning to suggest that political wives are more willing to forgive what is, at minimum, disgusting. These events change the lives of the entire family. Marriages end over far less in this country, where about 50 percent end in divorce. That husband and wife on the podium are looking down the barrel of a gun where the ammunition may include lost jobs and friendships and emotional disruptions that may last a lifetime.

After the forced admission may come apologies, intentions of reform, and lots of heated debate, both public and private. Public pronouncements may be along the line of, "I'm sorry I have let down my constituents." Private discussions may include, "You spent our money on what?!"

All of it only underscores what we all know: Public rhetoric and deeds are often quite different from the lives people lead. There may be no clearer example of this than Mr. Spitzer, a scourge of corrupt and dishonest behavior in others.

So let's try a new paradigm: Husband admits mistakes and suffers humiliation without the nauseated wife at his side (unless she really, truly wants to be there). Husband and wife work out the details of their private lives without pretending for the media. And when powerful women get into trouble, we'll grant the same amnesty to their husbands. This is the 21st century, after all.

Bonnie Bricker, a teacher and freelance writer, lives in Columbia. Her e-mail is bricker.bonnie@gmail.com.

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