Huma Abedin is used to the spotlight, but she’s new to the microphone. Over the past week, as Abedin has made the rounds to promote her new book, Both/And, she’s given her first televised interview and made her first appearance on a late-night show. Following 25 years of serving the politicians to whom she’s hitched her career and home life, Abedin is attempting to create a public image of her own.
The result is somewhat strained. Even on tour for the book that is supposed to establish Abedin as an independent entity, it’s still impossible to explain who she is and why any layperson should care about her without invoking two other more famous people: Hillary Clinton (still her boss) and Anthony Weiner (her almost-ex-husband). Talk shows are surely inviting her on in hopes she’ll dish on her more notable counterparts; readers are surely buying her book for the same reason. But she’s a person who, despite being in a position to write a tell-all, opted to write a memoir instead.
This may be an inescapable conundrum for a woman whose only reason for being in the public eye, before she became an author, was being an aide and a wife. Abedin tried to make light of her perpetual second billing on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert on Monday when, looking both glamorous and uncomfortable, she told Colbert she’d confirmed in advance that “you knew that I wasn’t bringing Hillary with me.” But the situation has also led to some incongruous framings of her memoir: The Cut’s review-plus-interview, by Lisa Miller, promises in its headline that “Huma Abedin Is Ready to Tell You Who She Is,” then stipulates within that “what classified intelligence Abedin possesses, what strategic advice she has meted out, the parameters of her own ambition—none of this is part of her story.” The text in the article’s tab, written with search engine optimization in mind, seems to admit to the blank space at the center of the narrative, reading: “Huma Abedin on Hillary Clinton, Anthony Weiner, Her New Book.” And even on those topics, Abedin is pretty tight-lipped, offering very little that feels surprising or new.
After so many years devoted to the success of one extraordinarily powerful employer-turned-friend, it’s possible that Abedin still feels more comfortable talking about Clinton than about herself. As Clinton’s chief of staff, she still stands to benefit from whatever aid she lends to Clinton’s image. Even so, it is jarring—and a little sad—to witness a memoirist dwelling so intently on the personal qualities and accomplishments of another. On Monday’s episode of The View, after speaking for several minutes about Clinton’s public service, Abedin said, “I actually hope that is one of the biggest takeaways that people take from my book. That … this woman is an extraordinary human being, aside from the fact that she was the most qualified person in my opinion to ever run for president.” Abedin has written the story of her own life, but her main hope is that it inspires a positive impression of someone else.
In every interview she gives about her memoir, Abedin utters some version of the same line: “If you let somebody else tell your story, they’re writing your history.” The resolve to claim her own narrative comes through in her book: In a review for the New York Times, Susan Dominus writes that Abedin has produced “not a sidekick’s tale, but the story of a person of substance—someone determined to tell her own story, with her name pronounced correctly, for once.” Dominus is referring to the part of Both/And in which Abedin explains to Lindsey Graham and John McCain (and, by extension, the reader) that her first name is pronounced with a short u, like “Humma,” rather than “Hooma” or “Heeyuma.” And yet, everywhere she goes on her promo tour—on The View, on Colbert, on Today, on ABC News—everyone continues to introduce her as “Hooma.” Abedin says nothing.
Rather than sell the book with a force of personality or with the promise of acute introspection, Abedin has been resorting to empty clichés. “Maybe it’ll help some women and some brown girls and some Muslims,” she mused on The View. What exactly will it help them learn, or do? Abedin presents her decision to stay with Weiner and launder his personal profile after multiple worrisome transgressions as a fait accompli: a function of her naïveté and inexperience with men, her responsibilities as a mother, and the social conventions of the early 2010s. Considered with the knowledge that Abedin’s action—or inaction—contributed to Donald Trump’s victory, it sounds a lot like an excuse. “By the way, I don’t believe that what I endured is all that uncommon,” Abedin said on The View. “I think there are many women in this country, and many people in this country, that go through betrayal every single day. That are living with somebody who has an addiction or a compulsion to do something that they cannot control.” That may be true, but not all of them had the high-powered positions—or proximity to the presidency—that Abedin did.
Reckless politicians who put their sexual desires above their public duty (who think so little of the public trust that’s been invested in them, and so little of the political mandate they’ve been given, that they’re willing to risk it all for a sexual thrill) deserve the full measure of blame for their misdeeds. But people who know about a politician’s selfish risk-taking and support his political career anyway—people like Huma Abedin—bear some responsibility for the consequences. After Weiner resigned in shame in 2011, his seat in Congress went to a Republican. After his criminal correspondence with a teenage girl led to an investigation that reignited the Clinton email scandal in 2016, Trump won the presidency. When that happened, Abedin initially felt partially at fault (“if she loses this election, it will be because of you and me,” she told Weiner, according to her memoir). But she ultimately decides to blame James Comey instead. “One man’s decision to play God forever changed the course of history,” Abedin writes. “It should not be my burden to carry the rest of my life. It should be his.”
On her promo tour, Abedin has repeated that everything she’s done in her life and career has been in support of “the mission”—presumably, a vision of social change or a set of policy goals she and Clinton share. But she appears to lack the self-awareness, or perhaps the willingness, to examine how both she and Clinton have failed to put “the mission” first. It would be interesting to hear Abedin explore how she and Clinton might have been less than credible as feminist heroes when they seemed so willing to publicly accept their husbands’ persistent and public disrespect. I’d love to hear her reckon with the way she encouraged Weiner to run for mayor in 2013 in an attempt to “fix him,” confident that he was a capable public servant, without considering what continuing to elevate his political profile might do to the Democratic Party and its goals. Abedin told The View that Hillary Clinton “didn’t have the freedom to leave her marriage” when Bill cheated and allegedly sexually assaulted other women. She did, of course. She just chose not to. These decisions are personal, but they have political impact, too. Whether they can be justified in hindsight or not, there’s always some self-interest involved.
In her interview with Lisa Miller, Abedin said she and Clinton have never discussed the similarities between their troubled marriages and public humiliations. Never! I guess it’s no surprise that if Abedin isn’t talking to one of her closest confidantes about the calculations they’ve both made to protect the lives and careers their husbands seemed bent on destroying, she’s not prepared to dig deep for the rest of us, either. It’s a shame, because if one thing could really “help some women” in the telling of Abedin’s story, it’s a true reckoning with how women like her—and the famous boss everyone wants to hear about—ended up enabling the men who fumbled the mission.