The scene we just saw – at 7 this evening, on Fox News – is woefully familiar. We’ve seen it all before: the dutiful wife standing by her possibly seriously errant husband.
There she is, Ashley Kavanaugh, planted next to her husband, Brett Kavanaugh, largely silent witness to his presumably impeccable character. Her presence is symbolic, not substantive. She is testimony, if mainly mutely, to his wonderfulness as a husband and father; to his wonderfulness as a man in full; to his wonderfulness as a legal arbiter.
In a 1992 joint television interview with would-be president Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton did essentially the same. She rejected the mere idea that she was the “little woman” straight out of Tammy Wynette’s country classic, “Stand by Your Man.” To the contrary, she insisted, she was sitting next to her husband, who already was fending off rampant rumors about rampant infidelities, simply because she loved and respected him.
Some years later, in 2004, Dina McGreevey, stood by her husband, James McGreevey, when he announced he was resigning the governorship of New Jersey not only because he had cheated on his wife, but because he was, additionally, “a gay American.” What was the purpose of such wifely support in such a dreadfully difficult circumstance? Once again, it was for public consumption, symbolic, not substantive. Dina’s Jim was not all bad, Dina was silently saying. Dina’s Jim was, among other things, a devoted father to their daughter.
In 2008, we had a repeat performance, this time by Silda Wall Spitzer. Silda Spitzer similarly stood alongside her husband, in this case New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, as he admitted during a deeply humiliating news conference that he had violated his obligations to his family and his “sense of right and wrong.” At least he did not, in public, oblige his wife to listen in stony silence as he confessed to being caught in a taudry sex scandal involving prostitutes.
Who can speak to the complexities of marriage? Certainly not I. I just wish that wives would let husbands speak for themselves. That wives trapped in a mess not of their own making would balk at putting on a public show of private support. Each of these husbands made their own bed. The least they could do is lie in it. Alone.