by Meredith O’Brien
The drama and the messy, personal fall-out for political wives, both on TV and in real life, continues unabated. From two primetime shows, HBO’s Big Love  and CBS’ The Good Wife , to Elizabeth Edwards, wives have been continuing to serve as collateral damage, sacrificed, humiliated and placed in untenable positions all in the name of their husband’s political ambitions.
On Big Love, which just concluded its fourth season, polygamist Bill Henrickson blew off the vigorous and well articulated concerns of his three wives who told him they didn’t want him to go public about their plural marriage if he won the state senate race. However after he won the election, during his acceptance speech he called each wife, one by one, to join him in front of a bank of news cameras and out themselves as polygamists because he believed that if “normal” polygamists step into the spotlight, the public image of plural marriage could be improved.
The reaction of his first wife, Barb to all of this was the most poignant, as not only was she ardently against announcing their polygamy for fear of her family’s safety, but she leaked the fact that Bill had gotten a woman pregnant to the media the night before the election hoping it would kill Bill’s candidacy. The whole out-of-wedlock pregnancy was a violation of the Henrickson’s marriage’s rules, Barb asserted, because when Bill had courted the woman as a potential fourth wife the two had premarital sex – a plural marriage dating “no-no” -- which led to the baby’s conception. Couple this with the fact that Barb found out that Bill also had premarital relations with the third wife before they got married, and Barb felt thoroughly betrayed, personally and publicly by her narcissistic husband. It’s unclear whether in season five, she’ll remain the Utah state senator’s good first wife.
Speaking of good wives . . . on The Good Wife, Alicia Florrick has been conflicted from the first episode of this freshman drama when her husband Peter was behind bars, found guilty for being a criminally corrupt state’s attorney who’d slept with a number of call girls. An added dose of mortification for Alicia came when videos of her husband with the call girls were widely circulated on the internet (and seen by their two teenagers), followed by one of the escorts making the rounds of TV interviews and saying that Alicia couldn’t please her husband in bed.
Alicia, a lawyer who’d been out of the field for a decade in order to raise the kids and support Peter’s political career, had to sell the house in the ‘burbs, move to Chicago and get a job at a law school buddy’s firm starting at the bottom of the food chain where she was competing with fresh twentysomething law school grads. Just as she was starting to get her bearings, Peter was released from prison and placed under house arrest. While trapped in the apartment, Peter unilaterally decided to hire political consultants to consider whether he should run for office again without seriously consulting Alicia, meaning their marriage and his cheating would again become grist for the media. In a recent episode, Peter’s consultants asked a pastor to visit Peter’s apartment to counsel him about the error of his ways so they’d be able to get photos taken of the respected minister leaving Peter’s home, which, the aides hoped, would help him politically.
The Good Wife hasn’t been predictable as Alicia has maintained a great poker face, unwilling to say whether she’s really going to forgive Peter and go along with him entering politics again. When she was recently tempted to get romantically involved with her law school buddy after a late, frustrating night of work, Alicia resisted and instead went home and had sex with Peter for the first time since the scandal broke. But afterward, she wasn’t all lovey-dovey and kept her feelings very close to the vest. I always wonder what wives of politicians who are publicly known to have cheated on them, think about their predicaments and why they sometimes choose to allow him rejoin the family and return to the public arena. Not having any personal experience in this area, the depiction of Alicia Florrick has the feeling of authenticity.
Unfortunately, in real life in the past week, a non-fiction version of a wife having her personal life turned into tabloid fodder played out again. (And no, I’m not talking about Oscar winner Sandra Bullock.) A new chapter in the truly awful saga of Elizabeth and John Edwards , who have legally separated, was written after a GQ interview  with John Edwards’ mistress Rielle Hunter -- who has a 2-year-old by Edwards, fathered during the 2008 presidential campaign – was published. Alongside several photos of Hunter posing among a child’s stuffed toys while wearing a man’s white dress shirt and no pants, there was a lengthy Q&A where Hunter depicted Elizabeth Edwards, a mother of three who has terminal cancer, as a wife who consistently emasculated her husband and victimized her husband with emotional abuse. “. . . [T]he wrath of Elizabeth is a mighty wrath,” Hunter told GQ, while noting that there were “other women” before her with whom John Edwards had been involved, adding a dollop more embarrassment to the story.
Though, by the time I finished reading the article I did wind up feeling pity for Hunter – who came across as in denial and wildly in love with a man who, because of political ambition, was willing to lie about her, lie about their child and have another man publicly pretend to be his child’s father – I felt enormous sympathy for Elizabeth Edwards. The Hunter interview resurrected this sordid subject, prompting People Magazine to put Elizabeth Edwards on its cover with the headline, “How Much More Can She Take? ” Well, if you’re a political wife, apparently you’re supposed to take a whole lot of public embarrassment, both in the land of fiction and in real life.