The XX Factor

The Saddest Aspect of the David Wu Scandal

Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer/Getty Images

Jessica, I think you’re right that the politician whose scandal is closest to David Wu’s is Arnold Schwarzenegger, especially given the revelation that Wu was accused of trying to force an ex-girlfriend to have sex when he was in college. Sure, there are aspects that remind us of the Anthony Weiner scandal and definitely the Mark Sanford* embarrassment (see this Atlantic rundown of Wu’s bizarre behavior), but the apparent history of brazen untoward behavior makes him most resemble Schwarzenegger.

But there was a line in an old Oregonian piece on Wu that I saw today that gives this story its own sad twist and makes it unique. Back in April, a judge “sealed parts of a legal divorce filing between” Wu and his estranged wife, Michelle, from whom he’d been separated since 2009.

Even though Wu has “received medication and counseling for undisclosed mental health issues,” and has had documented problems with painkillers, he is the “primary caretaker” of the couple’s two children. (Some stories refer to the couple sharing joint custody, but Wu speaks as if he has the lion’s share of the physical custody.) And while I know it’s at least mildly sexist of me to think like this, my first reaction was, “So this guy has mental health and addiction issues—for which he’s received treatment—and a job that takes him across the country, and yet he’s the one with the kids most of the time? What’s his wife’s story?”

A March article from Willamette Week sheds some light, and if true, it’s remarkably sad for Wu’s kids. Police reports from 2009 and 2010 indicate that Michelle Wu has her own struggles with alcohol and that she’d gone into rehab as a young woman.

With most political scandals, we worry about the wife. Will she stand by her man? Will they get divorced? “Oh, that poor woman,” we always say. When the Anthony Weiner scandal broke, the sensational details and the fact that Weiner’s wife was a prominent figure in her own right created a groundswell of sympathy for Huma Abedin—and then for their unborn child, when that news was revealed. This time is a little different. Even though Wu’s story hasn’t garnered the same level of attention, it’s clear that there are victims we should be worrying over, and that Wu’s children are at least as deserving of our sympathy as any scorned political wife.

*Correction, July 26: This post originally misspelled Mark Sanford’s surname.