Huma Abedin may think she’s following the Hillary Rodham Clinton playbook in standing by her man--the serial sexter and New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner--but there are fundamental differences between the Clintons and the Weiner-Abedin pair. Here are five of them:
1) The Monica Lewinsky scandal occurred in 1998, when Bill Clinton was in office as a term-limited president. Unlike Weiner, he was not running for anything and never would again. So in his case, voters were not being asked, as they are in New York, to affirmatively support someone who had, at minimum, made grave personal mistakes.
2) The economy was humming along, riding the dot-com boom, and the public was content with Clinton’s stewardship. In fact, Clinton and Ronald Reagan are the only two of seven postwar presidents to score better on their average approval ratings in their second terms than in their first, according to Gallup. Clinton’s was a substantial 11 points better than his first term--an amazing 61 percent approval average. This while, as Gallup notes, “he was embroiled in a sex scandal and became only the second president in U.S. history to be impeached. It appears the robust dot-com economy trumped his personal problems.” Weiner, a former congressman, does not have a stellar record to offset his personal problems.
3) Nor does Weiner compare to Bill Clinton when it comes to political skills. Clinton is an extraordinary communicator, as the country was vividly reminded during last year’s Democratic convention. He also has an extraordinary grasp of issues. He was the rare politician who didn’t just rail about budget deficits; he explained to voters how they could raise interest rates and have a real impact on their plans to buy houses, cars, and college educations. Clinton’s prodigious political talents bought him goodwill and time, both of which helped him survive many close calls. It may not be fair, but Weiner is not at that level and does not get the same margin of error.
4) Bill Clinton was lucky in his enemies. Most Americans--60 percent at one point--disapproved of special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, who had expanded an investigation of the Clintons’ Whitewater real-estate investment into the realm of sexual conduct. Republicans in Congress were carried along to the point where House Republicans impeached Clinton on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. Yet he was not convicted in the Senate, and Democrats actually gained a few House seats in midterm elections that historically favor the non-presidential party. Weiner’s obstacles are more formidable: the Democratic establishment (even the equally tarnished Eliot Spitzer, who is trying for electoral redemption in the race for New York City comptroller and says he wouldn’t vote for Weiner) and the likely voters who will decide the race, as evidenced by his 10-point drop from first to fourth place in the latest Quinnipiac poll.
5) Hillary Clinton did appear with her husband on CBS’s 60 Minutes in early 1992, when he was generally acknowledging having caused problems in their marriage but hadn't admitted to anything specific. She famously said in that interview, “I'm not sitting here, some little woman, standing by my man like Tammy Wynette. I'm sitting here because I love him and I respect him.” But she did nothing like that six and a half years later when, after months of evasions and lies, he finally admitted his inappropriate behavior with a White House intern. ''I was dumbfounded, heartbroken, and outraged that I'd believed him at all,” she wrote in her book, Living History. And feeling terribly humiliated to boot, according to reports at the time.
Weiner and Abedin held a joint press conference last week in an attempt to get past the latest revelations about Weiner’s escapades (Vanity Fair called it “the most awkward sext-splanatory press conference in human history”). For the Clintons in 1998, there was no joint appearance to try to paper over the pain. Instead, there was private counseling and a long-lasting frost. It started with a Martha’s Vineyard vacation during which Hillary Clinton wrote that Buddy, the dog, was the only member of the family who would keep Bill company.
It didn’t end, she said, until she decided to run for a Senate seat from New York and they found neutral common ground talking about the race. Which suggests that if Huma really wants to follow the Hillary playbook, she might think about quitting her job as a top aide to Hillary Clinton and run for office herself.