The Political Wife

One of the big moments of this season’s The Good Wife was when betrayed political spouse Alicia Florrick decided to do a TV interview in which she said she forgave her politician husband for straying. Her interview was considered to have sealed her husband’s bid to recapture the state’s attorney’s office.

 

This week, real political “good wives” and what good (or harm) they can do for their husband’s political campaigns seem to be plastered all over TV news stations, web sites and magazines, specifically on the cover of Newsweek which featured a blond woman wearing a red power suit decorated by an American flag pin, a strand of pearls and red lipstick. (Pointedly, you cannot see her eyes.) The headline reads: “The Good Wife 2012: Smile. Wave. Solve Libya. Just what is a candidate’s wife supposed to do these days?”

 

It was serendipitous timing for the Newsweek’s editors to run with that cover story as news was breaking that former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger admitted that he’d fathered a child with his family’s housekeeper (yes she worked in the house!) a short while before he embarked on his campaign for governor. Notably, his wife Maria Shriver had come to his assistance -- a la Alicia Florrick -- and gave a public speech just before that 2003 election urging voters to trust her that her husband was a good man, even though the media were going nuts over allegations that Schwarzenegger had sexually harassed dozens of women.

 

We were supposed to take Shriver’s word for it even though at the same time, we’ve now learned, her husband was hiding his in-the-house infidelity from her. It’s not too far from what happened to the fictional Good Wife Alicia Florrick whose husband withheld the fact that he’d slept with her close friend and colleague, something Alicia learned after she gave that “trust my husband” interview.

 

If you take marital infidelity off the table, even spouses in solid marriages routinely take a pummeling during modern American political campaigns, despite the fact that spouses aren’t the ones with their names on the ballot. A campaign strategist told Newsweek: “We have achieved this odd place in American politics where the wife is no longer there just to support her husband. She has to be a full-fledged part of the campaign.” And when you’re a part of the campaign, you’re considered fair game for attack ads and other unfortunate, negative campaign tactics. And we wonder why spouses, largely wives, of politicians are reluctant consent to their husbands running for public office?

 

Cindy McCain, wife of the 2008 GOP presidential candidate Senator John McCain, took a rhetorical beating during her husband’s high profile campaigns. “You would think there would be more understanding of the candidates and their spouses,” she wrote in a Newsweek essay. “What I found was that because it was such a fast pace, they understood me even less. I’ve seen things written about me that said ‘she’s cold,’ or ‘she is a Stepford wife.’ Really, I’m just very shy. No one bothered to ask that. I’m not sour-graping it here. I’m just trying to explain.”