Not long ago, a New York politician was ruminating over the political future of Geraldine Ferraro. If her husband was not indicted, the politician said, Ferraro would be golden -- an almost certain senatorial candidate and, with luck, a winner. If, however, her husband was indicted, Ferraro's career would be over. American politics has its own version of Biblical justice: The sins of the husband are visited on the wife.
Well, John Zaccaro has been indicted and has pleaded guilty to one count of a misdemeanor. In his statements, Zaccaro made light of what he had done -- schemed to defraud. He implied that his troubles stemmed from his wife's celebrity and said he wanted to return to private life. The statement, while wrong on the details (a routine audit did him in), was an approximation of a larger truth: We care little about Zaccaro and a whole lot about his wife. That being the case, is it fair that she should suffer because of what he has done?
The question is worth asking because Zaccaro did not peddle his wife's influence, nor is there any indication that she knew what he was up to. They live, as many married couples do, in separate professional worlds. She does her thing, and he does his, and it would be impossible for her to know the details of his business. Lots of couples with two careers have trouble even keeping up with their children, not to mention their spouses: It's 2 p.m. Do you know where your spouse is?
Still, there remains a tendency to judge a woman by her husband. This is generally not done the other way around. No one, for instance, thought that John Mitchell should have been removed from the Justice Department just because his wife was generally seen at the time to be a dingbat. Instead, everyone felt sorry for poor John, never considering that it was his wife who as telling the truth and he who was lying. And no one hesitates to conclude a business deal with some aging magnate just because he happens to have married an 18-year-old who spends her days either filing her nails or taking remedial reading lessons.
The point is that the sort of marriage men make is thought to say noth their talent, their abilities, their honesty. With men, marriage is totally irrelevant. They are forgiven dumb wives, boring wives, stupid wives and even dishonest wives. Their marriages may be an affliction or an asset, but either way people do not judge them by it. This is because the relevant judgments traditionally have been made by other men who adhere to the glass-house rule of life: Don't throw stones. We are, you must admit, a considerate lot.
But no such consideration is shown when it comes to women. Since they are new to both politics and business and, indeed, since their business was once traditionally their marriage, they often get judged on the basis of their husbands -- even when that standard is hardly germane. That happens to be the case with Ferraro. A long time ago she married a man who turns out, by his own admission, to be somewhat dishonest -- not a killer, not a dope peddler, but no altar boy, either. Does this disqualify her for the Senate of the United States?
The answer is no -- not automatically. But neither is it something that should be dismissed. Zaccaro bankrolled Ferraro's political career, remains her husband and, presumably, would retain his influence with her. Moreover, she lives partly on his money, the beach houses at Fire Island and in the Virgin Islands being the fruits of a real estate, not political, career. If a politician should not be judged solely on the basis of a spouse, neither should the spouse be ignored. He or she is just another factor -- in this case, maybe a crippling one. Like anyone else, Ferraro married for better or worse. Zaccaro has been adjudicated the worse.
But at the least Ferraro should not be judged by standards that would not be applied to a man. She is her own person -- a former congresswoman, a capable campaigner and the first woman nominated by a major party for the national ticket. Some standard of fairness ought to ap- ply. But, alas, as the New York politician suggests, that will not be the case. For a misdemeanor, Zaccaro will pay a fine -- and Ferraro will get life.