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Through It All, She Stands by Her Man

Relationships: Despite allegations of his extreme infidelity, Dick Morris' wife is staying strong--maybe a little too strong. Can her steely composure and staunch defense be for real?

September 12, 1996|GERALDINE BAUM and ELIZABETH MEHREN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Here's the scenario: Your husband, a hotshot political consultant who orchestrated the Democrats' collective baptism in the religion of family values, has been accused by a prostitute of allowing her to listen in to telephone conversations with the White House while the two were cavorting in a Washington hotel.

This revelation has been made on the cover of a supermarket tabloid. This means all your friends--and their nannies!--can read all about it while they wait in line to buy string beans or disposable diapers.

Your reaction is to:

A) Toss the slime ball out, pronto.

B) Arrange for a hit man (or woman) to seriously injure his kneecaps.

C) Spend a great deal of your husband's money on something truly useless.

D) Reveal absolutely no emotions. Lash out at "press creatures" who would do such a thing to your loving companion of 20 years. Ask not one single question that might make your husband, poor guy, feel even worse. Bring home a new golden retriever puppy named Bizzy to help the old dog, Dizzy, comfort your shellshocked hubster. Within less than a week of hubby's Washington assignation, help arrange for a photograph of the two of you to run on the cover of Time magazine. Apply your well-honed skills as a corporate lawyer to the defense of your husband. Give an exclusive interview--again, Time would be an ideal forum--explaining how you can calmly move beyond this temporary interruption of two decades of marital bliss.

"We're all human," you might write. "We all make mistakes."

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The world's least scientific Female Response Survey on this subject was conducted on street corners, in late-night best-girlfriend telephone calls, at the cappuccino bar and over mineral water at the gym. Reaction was evenly divided between answers A, B and C--although a number of women opted for "all of the above."

Remarkably, no one came close to endorsing answer D, yet that's a brief, but accurate, synopsis of the glacially cool reaction of Connecticut lawyer Eileen McGann to the disclosure that husband Dick Morris, Bill Clinton's political guru, had a fling with a D.C. hooker.

McGann's steely composure put an entirely new spin on the pre-feminist anthem, "Stand By Your Man." Assuming her panther-like defense attorney mode, McGann helped her husband launch a full-scale PR campaign, focusing on how much this whole situation had upset not her, but her darling, beleaguered husband man. (And she did not return calls to let the world in on her strategy.)

"She seemed to have put aside her emotions, that's for sure. She was thinking as a savvy lawyer and woman," said Time magazine Managing Editor Walter Isaacson, who talked to McGann hours after her husband's abrupt resignation as architect of the Clinton-Gore reelection effort.

Isaacson marveled at how McGann slid past his repeated questions about how she was feeling about her husband's infidelity.

"The most I got was an 'I am an adult' response," Isaacson said.

While astonishing to many women, McGann's pinnacle-of-calm approach won commendation from Dr. Joyce Brothers--who, as a young psychologist, began studying marital and extramarital relationships under the tutelage of Dr. Alfred Kinsey. Brothers praised McGann's "courageous stance," her apparent decision that "this is the man I want, this is the man who pleases me, who fits me like a glove, who makes me feel happy to be with."

Far from engaging in denial about her husband's escapades, Brothers said, McGann had obviously made up her mind not to bow to external pressure--particularly to those who might urge her to immediately move to Rio de Janeiro or change the locks on their Connecticut country estate.

When a spouse finds out he or she has been cheated on, Brothers noted, "the easy way is to leave. The hard way is to be a Pilgrim in the stocks and let people throw tomatoes."

In fact, Brothers added, a partner's out-in-the-open adultery constitutes "the worst public humiliation I could think of."

Legions of other political spouses have, of course, preceded McGann in the stiff-upper-lip tradition.

No one will ever know what First Lady Mamie Eisenhower thought or said about her husband's involvement with Kay Summersby. "Happy" Rockefeller remained stone-faced--but did arrange for a swift burial--when hubby Nelson died in the company of a young female political "advisor." Lee Hart kept mum when her husband's presidential intentions cratered following a fun-filled cruise with pharmaceutical saleswoman Donna Rice aboard a boat called Monkey Business. (The Harts are still married.) And some political observers believe Hillary Rodham Clinton may have turned the 1992 presidential election in the direction of her husband when she acknowledged "pain in our marriage" to a "60 Minutes" television audience.

Clinton went a step further, insisting that she and her husband had worked beyond disagreements that may have involved other women.

"Heck," she told much of Sunday-night America, "if that's not enough for you, don't vote for him."

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