Huma Abedin, a virtually unknown top woman in Washington, is having her breakthrough moment.
In a miserable kind of way.
A deputy chief of staff and longtime aide to Hillary Clinton, Abedin has faced uncomfortable scrutiny recently. Last year, everyone watched as her husband, former representative Anthony Weiner (D-NY), resigned from Congress for a sexting scandal. Now, five conservative members of Congress — including former Republican presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn) — claim that the Muslim-American is working on behalf of Islamists and Muslim terrorists. These accusations are baseless and illogical, and have only emphasized everything right about Abedin.
It’s astonishing how many politicians have defended her so fiercely. Even Republicans, who normally stay loyal to party lines, have condemned Bachmann.
Sen. John McCain has defended Abedin, saying “Put simply, Huma represents what is best about America: the daughter of immigrants, who has risen to the highest levels of our government on the basis of her substantial personal merit and her abiding commitment to the American ideals that she embodies so fully.” Only someone who has proven herself can command such levels of respect that transcend politics.
Abedin was born to two professors in Michigan and raised in Saudi Arabia. She returned to the United States to attend George Washington University. In 1996, she interned for the White House under then-First Lady Hillary Clinton and served as “body woman” for Clinton’s 2008 presidential race. Now, she works under the Secretary of State as a top aide.
People close to Abedin recognize her excellent diplomatic and organizational skills.
“Huma is always inclusive,” said the Clintons’ personal lawyer in an article in Vogue. “She makes people feel good even when she’s saying no.”
She is known as “Hillary’s secret weapon” among the secretary’s inner circle; Abedin organized every minute of Clinton’s day during her presidential campaign. In 2010, TIME named her one of the “40 under 40” rising stars in American politics.
She is a fascinating blend of tradition and modernity. Though a devout Muslim and “very conservative,” according to close friend fashion designer Oscar de la Renta (yeah, I know), she is ambitious and highly accomplished for a 34-year old woman.
She grew up feeling she could achieve anything; her mother helped create one of Saudi Arabia’s first private women’s colleges and her father helped found an institute to promote religious understanding between the East and the West. An ambitious recent graduate, she was initially disappointed that she got assigned to Clinton; she had wanted to work in the White House press office so she could be “the next Christiane Amanpour.”
Abedin sees politics not as popularity contest or wonkish debate, but truly as a public service. “In some tiny, tiny way I am part of history, but I am also able to help people,” she told Vogue about her role.
If her accomplishments weren’t enough for women to admire her, she is also beautiful and has an incredible taste for fashion.
She is a role model not only for women, but for everyone in Washington. Foreign policy officials praise her loyalty, determination, patience, and her sensible, more reserved demeanor — virtues that politicians pandering to voters and yelling one-liner soundbytes seem to lack nowadays. Abedin also has been an important voice in shaping Clinton’s Middle East policy and aims to encourage more understanding between the East and the West. Bridging the cultural gap is something Americans badly need, as evidenced by the Bachmann debacle.
“Huma Abedin has the energy of a woman in her 20s, the confidence of a woman in her 30s, the experience of a woman in her 40s, and the grace of a woman in her 50s. She is timeless, her combination of poise, kindness, and intelligence are matchless, and I am lucky to have had her on my team for a decade now,” Clinton wrote.
Despite the Bachmann accusations and the sex scandal, the uncomfortable press has only shed light on how excellent Abedin has proven herself to be in Washington.
She should be the one running for public office, not her husband, Anthony Weiner. America needs more calm, sensible, strong, ambitious women like Abedin.