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And now we turn to political wives. They have also been in the news this week. There's Maria Shriver and her husband's infidelity; Callista Gingrich, the third wife of presidential candidate Newt Gingrich; and Cheri Daniels, the politically reluctant spouse of Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels.

Not so long ago, the private lives of politicians were considered off limits, even protected by the media. But times have changed.

NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports on what this world without boundaries means for candidates' spouses and for the country.

ANDREA SEABROOK: If aliens came down and judged America by the TV news, they'd sure think we care about this a lot.

(Soundbites of newscasts)

Unidentified Man #1: Newt Gingrich's private life has been messy. He's on his third marriage.

Unidentified Man #2: So Mitch Daniel's wife, Cheri, she leaves. She marries another guy, she comes back, she marries...

Unidentified Woman #1: Maria Shriver moved out of the family's mansion earlier this year, even before they announced their separation...

SEABROOK: It's not a new phenomenon. The question is asked every election. What right to privacy does a candidate's family have, and what's fair game?

Ms. MARY MATALIN (Political Consultant): There is no definition of fair game. So whatever you think it is, you can disabuse yourself of any of that notion.

SEABROOK: This is Republican political consultant Mary Matalin. She's worked with some of the most powerful politicians in the country and she says being the wife of a high-profile candidate - going through the media exposure, the combing through your past - is just awful.

Ms. MATALIN: It's unfair, it's irrational, it's pain that's relentless. And if you can develop a defense for yourself, you can never develop a defense for your loved ones.

SEABROOK: When a nasty campaign hurts the family's children, says Matalin, even the most steeled political wife breaks down.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, a columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and for the last seven years, the wife of Ohio politician Sherrod Brown.

Ms. CONNIE SCHULTZ (Columnist, Cleveland Plain Dealer): I was not prepared for morphing into a mere appendage of my husband's campaign.

SEABROOK: Schultz campaigned with her husband when he ran for the Senate in 2006. She says young staffers or even just bystanders at political events would tell her to cut her hair, wear other clothes or act differently on stage. Schultz thinks this is at least in part plain old-fashioned sexism.

Ms. SCHULTZ: I want to buy tickets to that show if anyone thinks they're going to start lining up husbands and telling them how to behave.

SEABROOK: Schultz believes that it's up to the individual candidate and spouse to set the boundaries of their privacy, and that they should then defend them vigorously. The voracious appetite for private details, she says, doesn't do anybody any good.

Ms. SCHULTZ: Marriages are complicated things. The healthiest of marriages are complicated. And yet, we want to make them caricatures.

SEABROOK: To be fair, it's not just the media and gossip bloggers digging down deeper every election. The candidates themselves often use the story of their private lives to show their strengths.

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich talks about how after two earlier marriages, his current wife, Callista Gingrich, led him to his Catholic faith. GOP consultant Mary Matalin says she would urge Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels to tell his story of a broken family, later reunited, if he runs for the Republican nomination.

Ms. MATALIN: I think that's a good trend, and the only way to deal with the invasion and the voyeurism that marks our politics of today.

SEABROOK: And perhaps, says Matalin, voters will get so used to hearing about messy lives and messy marriages, that they'll lose interest in those private details and restore some boundaries in politics.

Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, Washington.

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