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Too Much Information?
The Rhetoric of Women Wronged:
When Political Spouses Tell Their Stories

by Nichola Gutgold

Dina Matos McGreevey, Silent Partner;
Published by Hyperion Books, New York, 2007, 290 pages.

Elizabeth Edwards, Resilience;
Published by Broadway Books, New York, 2009, 213 pages.

Jenny Sanford, Staying True;
Published by Ballantine Books, New York, 2010, 240 pages.

With the recent (and pathetically staged) “apology” of the allegedly sex-addicted Tiger Woods fresh in our minds, I read and re-read three books from spouses of politicians who have strayed. This growing body of reading material begs the question: Is it worth the paper it is printed on?

“My truth is I am a gay American.”

When I watched the governor of New Jersey declare this in August, 2004 with his picture-perfect blond wife at his side, my only thought was, “And you had to stand next to him to further your humiliation because?”

In her 2007 book, Silent Partner, Dina Matos McGreevey explains why she stood by his side that day. She explains that she stood by her husband because he asked her to be 'Jackie Kennedy' that day. She could have refused. The best compliment she has for her ex-husband in the book? “The sex was good.”

Throughout most of the book, however, the former first lady of New Jersey describes her ex-husband as a self-important, pathological liar who said more to the people of New Jersey than to her about his realization that he is gay. That she was left for another man and not another woman is the 'news peg', I suppose, about McGreevey’s book but it left me feeling sorry for all of them and hoping that by writing such a bitter tale, Dina Matos feels better. Like the Jenny Sanford book, Staying True, McGreevey’s book is full of bitterness over slights that at the time seemed a little weird, but in retrospect were pointing to a big problem in the marriage.

So it was a relief when Jenny Sanford didn’t subject herself to the same media glare when her governor husband gushed like a school boy and rambled on about crying with his soul mate in Argentina. In June, 2009 when Mark Sanford, governor of South Carolina, made his stream of conscience confessional, it was satisfying that he stood alone. The first lady’s absence showed a certain defiance. But now Jenny Sanford is telling everyone how she is “staying true” in her tell-all book by the same name. Besides the obvious financial gains of writing a best-selling book, what good can come of her over-sharing about the kinds of things better left for pillow-talk?

Now I am all for expanding women’s voices. I live for it. But what is gained by information like this? As a mother I cringe for her four sons. They should come to their own conclusions about their father. And Jenny Sanford no doubt could spend her considerable talent and energy doing something of greater import.

I picture a glint in the eye of Jenny Sanford as she describes events that would better be left between the two of them. Do we need to know about how the governor returned a favorite diamond necklace because he regretted spending as much as he did on it? Or how he left her alone while she underwent a tubal ligation to avoid the danger of a fifth pregnancy? The portrait of Mark Sanford that emerges from this book is one of a narcissistic lightweight woefully lacking in the sensitivity department. I already sensed as much without reading one page.

Who could not admire Elizabeth Edwards? Mother of a dead teenager, cancer patient and political spouse; each role a burden. But when word of her husband’s unfaithfulness hit the news, I wondered why thoughtful and intelligent Elizabeth Edwards would dignify it with a book. Until I read it.

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