SAN DIEGO -- I’ve written about politics for 30 years, and I’ve been happily married for half as long. And, from making my way through the trenches of both adventures, here is what I’ve learned: My wife and I will at times disagree about politics. And, when this happens, I’m always wrong.
Well, that explains the “happily married” part.
Even so, I’m beginning to think that for many people, marriage and politics don’t mix. The mainstream media can’t make up their minds about whether a public figure ought to be able to answer for the beliefs of his or her spouse. And things get even murkier when those beliefs spark actions -- political contributions, even tweets -- that put the public figure in a tight spot.
Are we our spouses’ keepers? The uncomfortable truth is that, to a large degree, the answer depends on whether the person expected to keep their spouse in check is a man or woman.
When we’re talking about White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, the answer seems to be “yes.” But when it is NBC’s “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd, or former FBI Assistant Director Andrew McCabe, it changes to “no.”
There seems to be a double standard for men and women. It is considered unfair to ask a man to answer for the political beliefs of his wife. But, even in 2018, we can’t seem to get beyond making that absurd demand of women.
And since we’re discussing absurdity, let’s check in with the cable network that has -- in the era of Trump -- taken that concept to new heights by taking itself way too seriously.
During a recent appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Conway was asked by host Dana Bash to explain tweets written by her husband, George, a prominent Washington lawyer and frequent critic of President Trump.
Conway hit the roof, accusing Bash of trying to “harass” her and dismissing the question as sexist. She brought up Hillary Clinton’s offensive suggestion from a few weeks ago that “white women” let their fathers, boyfriends and husbands tell them what to think about politics. Then Conway declared it “fair game” to talk about the spouses of people who work at CNN.
The whole segment made me cringe. When did journalism devolve into sophomoric bouts of gossip, innuendo and sniping?
On the defensive, Bash insisted that her question had nothing to do with gender. “I would ask you that if you were a man,” she told Conway. “No, you wouldn’t,” Conway fired back.
Bash suggested that it can be “hard” for two adults who are married to have different opinions. Conway seized on the word “hard” -- asking “hard for whom?” The married couple? Or the media?
Conway acknowledged that it could be “difficult” for her children -- who she said were probably watching -- to see their mom have to defend their dad. But, she jabbed, the kids are used to witnessing a “double standard for their mother.”
Why should Conway be expected to comment on her husband’s political views? Since when is a wife accountable for what her husband tweets? And what does all this matter anyway?
The rules to this game have changed, folks.
It seems like just yesterday that we were being told by the media that it was totally irrelevant that Chuck Todd’s wife, Kristian Denny Todd, had done extensive consulting and communications work with Democrats, including former Sen. Jim Webb and Sen. Bernie Sanders, and contributed money to Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia. Conservatives say that this amounts to a “conflict of interest” for the NBC newsman. Todd insists that his wife’s work doesn’t influence his views, and he claims that they have both been transparent about who does what.
We were also assured that Andrew McCabe isn’t responsible for the fact that his wife -- while running unsuccessfully as a Democrat for the Virginia state Senate in 2015 -- took in more than $675,000 from Democratic political action committees controlled by then-Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. It was McAuliffe, a longtime ally and confidante of Bill and Hillary Clinton who, according to The Wall Street Journal, urged Jill McCabe to run for office. Curiously, this was all about the same time that it was reported that Hillary Clinton had used a private email server while serving as secretary of state - a lapse in judgment that would ultimately be investigated by the FBI, whose leadership included Andrew McCabe. What a small world!
When Todd was asked by radio hosts about his wife’s political work, he bristled: “I don’t control her political opinions, and she doesn’t control mine.”
That’s a great line, Chuck. Can Kellyanne Conway borrow it?
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is email@example.com. His daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation,” is available through every podcast app.