Just imagine the conversation between Hillary Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State, and Huma Abedin, the 30-something adviser she considers close enough to be her second daughter. In the whole wide world of women, Hillary had to feel Huma's pain the most over her disgraced and disloyal husband, and not just because she's her boss.
Perfectly delicious irony is a dish best served scorching hot—so a diplomatic mission to sub-Saharan Africa and the United Arab Emirates provided an apt atmosphere for the sext-charged crisis. But the African and Arabian heat were nothing compared to sizzling Washington, where Abedin's husband, New York Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner, lied about, and then confessed to, sending salacious images of his privates over the Internet. His promising career now in ashes, the congressman insisted his pregnant wife still has love left for him. We'll see how "treatment" works out for him. The rest of the town wants Weiner—like a mad dog—gone by sundown.
Secretary Clinton may reassure Abedin the other end of the earth was the best place to be—she only got as far as Baltimore when news of Monica Lewinsky's link to her husband broke on a cold day in Washington 13 years ago. She may share her aide's sorrow and fury. Yet the hard-headed strategist is likely hard at work as she holds her hand. Not for nothing does Secretary Clinton have the hardest job in the Obama administration. Her strategic skills are top-of-the-line, as she has demonstrated in the last decade, emerging as a historical figure in her own right. [Vote now: Should Weiner resign over lewd photos?]
Looking back, her first lady days are nothing to be ashamed of. But she hit the down side of vicarious power in the worst way, with the world watching. Chelsea Clinton seemed to be the only glue holding her parents together one sad summer. I imagine right now Hillary Clinton is incredulous, even insulted, that someone closely connected to her circle, Weiner, would play the Fool and embarass them all. If her feelings toward Bill Clinton's sinning with Monica are any guide, Weiner had better stay a safe distance from Foggy Bottom. A prediction: In a woman-to-woman tete-a-tete, Hillary will tell Huma to follow her heart right out of her troubled marriage. Hearts may be broken, but the political stakes aren't as high. [Read: Little Evidence Weiner Broke Law in Twitter Photo Scandal.]
Unlike Bill Clinton, whose friends in Congress stood by him down to the last D (except for Joe Lieberman, of course) during the Starr Chamber persecution over "too much of nothing" (as the song goes), the brash Weiner has few defenders among colleagues. No surprise there, since he spent most of his time in the Capitol press galleries—but his Fourth Estate "friends" can't be found, either. He just can't read their writing on the wall. In short, he is one deeply confused and clumsy congressman. In an adultery-lite drama that Sir Harold Pinter, the late London playwright, Nobel laureate, and author of Betrayal, wishes he had written posthumously, President Clinton joins the cast of four principals and one offstage character—the precarious ship of state in 1998-99, when the Lewinsky sex scandal and a "dirty dozen" House Republicans threatened to take down his presidency, led by the trifecta of then Speaker Newt Gingrich, Bob Livingston, and Henry Hyde. Irony ran pretty rich back then, with these three (confessed) philanderers bent on taking down a popular president for a small consensual fling with a young woman (over 21) who was not a White House intern for the period under investigation, contrary to published reports. (She had a paid job at the Pentagon.) The ship is not going to wreck over these shoals, but it is a demoralizing debacle for Democrats. [Read Whispers: Weiner's Sassy Twitter Pals.]
Hillary and Bill Clinton are reported by The New York Times to be "deeply unhappy" with this tempest, which is testing his comforter-in-chief repertoire. After all, President Clinton officiated at the Abedin-Weiner wedding just last June. Being at the epicenter of this episode clearly brings an excruciating element of deja vu for the Clintons. Some dozen years ago, they were flying in the eye of a storm—one they hoped had passed into the realm of history. No such luck.
And I'll leave that dramatic dialogue to Sir Harold.