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WASHINGTON - For years, she's been a sad feature of American politics -- the sombre political wife, standing by her man amid revelations of sexual impropriety.
Hillary Clinton, Silda Spitzer, Elizabeth Edwards, Wendy Vitter, to name just a few — they've all appeared beside disgraced politicians, in stricken silence or in resolute defence, as the flawed men they chose for husbands have made public confessions of extra-marital misdeeds and asked for forgiveness from Americans.
But 36-year-old Huma Abedin is a younger woman, from a different generation and a different culture than those who grew up remembering Jackie Kennedy's stiff upper lip after stories of her late husband's rampant philandering emerged in the years following his assassination.
The wife of Anthony Weiner, the former congressman who confessed Tuesday to yet another raunchy sexting scandal involving a 22-year-old woman, is a bright, educated feminist with an impressive career of her own as a longtime adviser to Clinton, no stranger herself to a badly behaving husband.
And Abedin's awkward public defence of her husband has not just puzzled female members of America's chattering classes — it's angered and dismayed them.
"Abedin's acceptance is hers to bestow, but she cannot force it on us," Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post wrote in an opinion piece on Wednesday. "Not when Weiner acknowledges that his sexting is 'in our rearview mirror, but it's not far.' How many car crashes are enough before you yank the driver's licence?"
Pepper Schwartz, a sociologist, author and senior fellow at the Council on Contemporary Families, was equally appalled.
"What the hell was she doing at Weiner's press conference Tuesday, where he once again asked her and the public for forgiveness for a new set of sexual transgressions, instead of being at her attorney's office?" Schwartz wrote on CNN.com.
It's a question many women are asking.
"I would have thought maybe she might have wanted to get out after the initial scandal, but to have him say that he was still doing that stuff, long after the first problem, and now she's even more supportive — it's just hard to understand," Myra Gutin, a communications professor at New Jersey's Rider University who studies first ladies and political wives, said in an interview.
"She must see something in him that other people don't. She's obviously very invested in the marriage, and perhaps there's more to it than we're understanding."
Theories are running the gamut, with some suggesting the Weiners must have a loveless marriage that emotionally enables the ambitious Abedin to sacrifice her dignity for the fame, power and connections that would result from being the wife of the New York City mayor.
Others opine that she is simply hopelessly devoted to a troubled bad boy, an affliction familiar to many women.
Still others assume she's following too much in the footsteps, or even taking advice from, of one of America's most famous wronged women — Clinton, her longtime friend and mentor who's expected to run for president in 2016.
Publications ranging from Time magazine to Vanity Fair have offered up their own explanations on what could possibly be motivating Abedin.
"Abedin knew the decision she was making to speak on her husband's behalf, and it was a choice that most likely takes into account her own political future, potentially as chief of staff to the nation's first woman president, as well as her personal future, as mother to a 20-month-old, Jordan," Time wrote.
The speculation about her motivations must be excruciating for the famously private Abedin.
The Muslim Abedin, who grew up in Saudi Arabia, has long been hesitant to step into the spotlight, so the timing couldn't be worse for one of her rare forays onto the public stage — a piece she penned for the September issue of Harper's Bazaar magazine, which goes on sale Aug. 20.
The magazine provided a "first look" on Wednesday after Weiner's newest sex scandal was revealed.
The article's title? "The Good Wife."
"People have said many things about my husband — some nice, some not so nice," Abedin wrote. "And that will surely continue. Launching this campaign was not an easy decision for our family to make. Putting yourself out there comes with a cost."
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