Maureen Dowd’s Reductio Ad Islam

He’d been sending pictures of himself in various states of undress to women to whom he was not wed, while in high office, for which reason he is no longer in high office. But Anthony Weiner, who’s Jewish (which doesn’t matter), is married to Huma Abedin, who’s Muslim (which shouldn’t be relevant), and Abedin made the decision to stand by her man as his career shriveled up—low-hanging fruit, I know—and died. But in American politics we are all believers in an afterlife. Or maybe eternal recurrence.

Weiner’s career had appeared to resurrect itself in the race to replace New York’s Michael Bloomberg, until his wandering ‘send’ button-pushing came back to haunt him. Worse still, all of us. These pictures were more revealing, as in entirely so, and though Weiner says he’d previously revealed their existence to his wife, they were sent after his resignation from Congress and thus after his first apology. What’s a woman to do? I don’t know, but I know what we’re supposed to. Comment till our faces turn blue. 

We should inhale some of David V. Johnson’s argument at Jacobin, that we as a society forego moral sentimentalism in favor of the substantive issues that demand action. Structural challenges, not personal endowments. Whose business is it whether Weiner’s wife was well and fully informed or not? Is there some rule that unfaithful men make bad leaders? (George W. Bush. Checkmate.) Why should we focus on the sideshow, and not on what New York needs, and is being offered? So I stayed silent. 

Until I read Maureen Dowd’s Sunday New York Times column, that is. In it, she ascribes Abedin’s (unfathomable) fidelity to her husband, Anthony Weiner, who is the father of their child to—and here it comes, the very insight you paid through the paywall for—her Saudi Arabian upbringing, for that is where women are oppressed and learn helplessness. That makes complete sense!

Consider: Huma’s one-time boss, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, stuck by a husband who did one worse, so far as these things can be weighed and inveighed against.

He cheated on his wife in his office, which happened to be our office, meaning the Oval Office. Still Clinton stuck by her husband for the very same reason, because she too was raised in Saudi Arabia. Don’t you know Muslim women are invariably oppressed? Don’t you know Hillary Clinton’s not a Muslim, except she should be, for Dowd’s column to deserve the space it received? (All this time we were worried about Obama.) Perhaps aware of the thinness of her causation, Dowd offers other specious possibilities. 

Like, Clinton’s apology was more sincere. Or, his career more robust. His potential greater. (How far beyond President can you go?) Or she just made a choice. Abedin made a choice. We all make choices. Abedin’s mother made a choice to found one of Saudi Arabia’s first private women’s colleges, as New York magazine reported. Liberalism may be proud of its universalism, but it is not the only such tradition to claim global scope—nor is it immune from the occasional collapse into intense, unreflective parochialism.

What’s the difference between Dowd’s silliness and Rush Limbaugh’s (raised, incidentally, in Missouri, which, oh joyful juicy fate, is the ‘Show-Me State’)? The shock jock also blamed Abedin’s Muslimness for her choice to stay with her husband. She doesn’t have any power, says the former pain pill addict. Not that I believe I’ve any such right to comment on Abedin’s choice, just in case you thought I thought so, being the bearded fellow that I am, raised as I was in New England.

Not that I think it relevant, either. Whether Abedin’s inclination to remain with him speaks to his fitness for office is marginally relevant to the campaign he is running—what matters is where Weiner stands on germane concerns, such as those political and economic, although by this point the circus will consume everything and leave nothing in its wake. Reductio ad Islam? Dowd and Saudi Arabia have at least this in common: They like to deny women agency.

Only Dowd doesn’t have a childhood in Saudi Arabia to blame it on.