Until last weekend, the excruciating public spectacle of the humiliated wife standing by her errant politician-husband as he dropped out of a campaign or resigned from office seemed, mercifully, to be on the verge of extinction.
Jenny Sanford opted out of the news conference -- and the marriage -- after her husband, former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, found his Argentine soul mate. Huma Abedin, the wife of former Rep. Anthony Weiner, seems to be sticking it out, but she had the self-respect to take a pass as he confessed to juvenile tweets.
Alas, there was Gloria Cain, Human Prop. She stood on the stage behind her husband Saturday, clapping and waving as Herman Cain announced he was suspending his presidential campaign. Cain dropped out in the wake of multiple allegations of sexual harassment and the revelation of a 13-year-long relationship that the other woman says was an affair and that Herman Cain says was merely a friendship.
But to listen to him, you would have thought it was a triumph -- and perhaps it was, measured in the terms that seem to most matter to Cain. "Right now my name ID is probably 99.9," he said, grinning broadly.
Most cads in Cain's position at least have the decency to apologize to their spouses for exposing them to humiliation. Cain used his as insulation, a testimonial to the glories of his favorite subject, Herman Cain. "I am at peace with my God," he intoned. "I am at peace with my wife," turning to bask in her approving claps. "And she is at peace with me." Pause for Gloria Cain to smile and point supportively at her supposedly victimized spouse, as the crowd chants, "Gloria. Gloria. Gloria."
It made me wince.
Now Cain, unlike most of his straying compatriots, didn't cop a plea to what he insisted are "false and unproved accusations."
Put aside the fact that three separate women accused Cain of sexual harassment. Two received financial settlements and one mentioned the problematic behavior to a friend at the time.
Put aside the public, on-the-record statements from Ginger White that she had a 13-year extramarital affair with Cain. Instead, focus only on the facts that Cain himself has acknowledged: He had a close friendship with this woman, close enough to feature 4 a.m. texting. He gave her money. Somehow, innocent as this all was, he neglected to mention it to his wife.
Perhaps Gloria Cain is a more forgiving sort, but if my husband did that -- and only that -- I would not be out there clapping for him.
Is Gloria Cain a humiliated dupe or a witting co-conspirator in her husband's self-aggrandizement? I don't know, nor am I sure which would be worse. I do know that Gloria Cain's public presence at her husband's side is disturbing, either way. If Herman Cain's intention was truly, as he told the Manchester (N.H.) Union Leader about his wife, to "put her first," he would not have had her up on the stage to serve his purposes. Come to think of it, if he really wanted to put Gloria Cain first, Herman wouldn't have run for president in the first place.