04/03/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Good Wife Myth

Tonight on CBS' The Good Wife, a suspected killer turns his filleting skills on Alicia Florrick, the betrayed political spouse who gives the show its title. The weapon? An allegation.

"There are rumors," he sneers, "that you knew of your husband's...appetites."

And there it is, the cherry bomb sure to clear any clubhouse gathering of scorned first ladies and congressional cuckqueans. Jenny Sanford, Alicia Florrick's real-life doppelganger, no doubt has her retort polished like statehouse silverware for her visit with Barbara Walters on Friday's 20/20.

Mrs. Sanford, estranged wife of the guy who made "hiking the Appalachian Trail" an early frontrunner for Best Euphemism of the Century, will be plugging her new memoir Staying True. Move over, Silda Spitzer. The New Good Wife is here.

It's a tongue-in-cheek term, of course, on CBS and off. Dina Matos McGreevey and Suzanne Thompson Craig (Jim and Larry, remember?) pretty much quashed our ability to take the job seriously. No more the gullible, humiliated, forgiving ladies of yesterday.

Good Wife 2.0 isn't quick to absolve. (Come to think of it, neither was Dina, but that came during the custodial phase.) Today's Good Wife is independent, professional, as steely as she is wounded. Jill Clayburgh for the Wonkettes. On the CBS legal drama, lapsed attorney Alicia, played with stunned resilience by Julianna Margulies, dives back into the shark-infested waters of corporate law after her sex-taping horndog husband is busted for corruption.

Certainly it says something of our times that the husband's trip to prison is more plausible than the wife's re-entry into the job market. Then again, I suppose hotshot lawyer is no bigger a stretch than bestselling memoirist. And Alicia Florrick shares something else with Jenny Sanford: Neither seems inclined to stand by her man.

In Jenny's case, that's literal. Having bolted the Governor's Mansion several weeks before the flake hit the fan, Mrs. Sanford most definitely did not assume the position while Mr. Sanford made his loopy public confession. It's the twist that makes this Good Wife's tale such irresistible Oprah bait.

Considerably less crucial to the storyline is the fact that Governor Sanford did not ask for Mrs. Sanford's hand at the altar of redemption. On her recent 10 Most Fascinating People special, Barbara Walters nearly strained a lat to get Jenny's "If he had asked me I would have said no." A bit passive, sure, but necessary to the narrative. "It's very important," cooed Walters, "for you not to be seen as a victim."

Indeed, Good Wife 2.0 is wised-up. In control. A patsy no more. She's flung open her man's closet door, stapled a GPS to his ass and tracked his whereabouts. She wouldn't be caught dead next to the bastard. Even if he had asked.

And good for her, honestly. But isn't it just a little dismaying that in a post-Hillary landscape we seem to have no room for political wives the equal of their conniving husbands? Women who skip the patsy phase entirely and take full custody of their deals with their devils?

On the Random House website for Staying True, Jenny Sanford, we're told, "gave up her career, moved far from her home state of Illinois, even changed her religious practices," all for a "harmonious married life" and "her husband's political aspirations."

If that's all you knew about her, you'd think little Jenny had been swept off her feet and scooped off the farm before being plopped into some godless Oz of political ambition. In fact, her flight from Illinois to South Carolina included a six-year layover on Wall Street, where she passed a chunk of the Gordon Gekko '80s as a VP of mergers & acquisitions for the Lazard Freres & Co. investment banking firm.

Look, I'm not saying Jenny Sanford is like Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate. I am saying I wish she were.

And frankly, I don't find it so far-fetched, especially after last week's 20/20 with Andrew Young, chief toady (and damned Good Wife himself) to Papa John Edwards. Young let us listen to phone messages he received from a furious Elizabeth Edwards, and you'd have to rewind the Watergate tapes to hear a scarier Beltway blistering. Out Goody Edwards, in Queen Elizabeth.

But an even better candidate for next year's model made her bow on the same show. Cheri Young said she had the chance to nix the phony paternity scheme concocted for her husband by Papa John, but she opted to go along with the fraud. Sniffed a defiant Cheri to Bob Woodruff, "How about if someone came to you and said 'I really can't let my wife know?'"

As a match for the duplicitous, calculating Andrew, Cheri Young isn't merely a Good Wife. She's perfect.