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Trophy Wife: Political Spouse as PR Prop

Trophy Wife: Political Spouse as PR Prop

It is an act that gets played out time and again, like a bad dream: the scandal, the disgraced politician, the attempts to explain (or deny) and salvage a career – a drama that almost always has the same end game – a resignation and discussions about lessons learned and rehabilitation odds.

A key stop along the way is the press conference, and often much hay is made over the presence (or lack thereof) of the politician’s significant other at these events. I am not sure when we became so focused on this – perhaps it started back in the Clinton era, during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

The New York Times Sunday Review featured an article that takes a closer look at the issues surrounding the spouse’s role during crises like these.

It was written by Robert and Michelle King, creators of the TV show Good Wife, a CBS drama that follows a similar same story line.  In particular, I was riveted by a Q and A section by the husband and wife team – they were not in agreement on all aspects of the debate.  Here is an excerpt:

…the betrayed wife’s dilemma is complicated by the overlap between the private and the public spheres.   The confessing politician has two audiences: the spouse and the public. And the two interests conflict. A wife wants privacy to heal the relationship or to dissolve it. The public wants details.

Robert: .. confession as a public act is patently hypocritical. It can’t help but have an agenda: political rehabilitation. To my mind, Catholics have it right. Confession, whether to a wife or to a priest, is a private matter.

But that’s the irony of public life: how can a politician make amends otherwise?

Michelle: Yes, but the wife has to wonder if she’s being used as a way to resurrect his career. Even if she does forgive him, does she want that forgiveness to be used to save his job?

Robert : And what does the wronged wife do if she truly believes in her husband’s political worthiness? Is it wrong for her to forgive him if she merely believes it serves a worthy political end?

Michelle: Yes.

Robert: But doesn’t that reduce her to only a spouse, and not address her as a thinking political being?

Michelle: No.

Robert: In the end, I can’t help but sympathize with the disgraced candidate. He is surrounded by hypocrisy. .. That’s why the crisis manager’s admonition to “admit everything” always seems a bit ridiculous. What don’t you admit? Once you start digging, there’s no stopping.

Michelle: No, you don’t. But the problem is, once you’re thinking about what to admit, you’re in the world of strategy. You’re trying to manipulate the system to save your career. In the best of all possible worlds, you ignore the public consequences and apologize privately, and accept whatever happens.

Robert: Which unfortunately makes for bad drama.


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