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By now, you've surely seen the latest round of high-end wife-blaming in Washington. In seeking to shift their own controversies onto their marital partners, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez joined a tradition that extends across party lines and stretches back through the centuries.

We might have hoped we'd be past such things by now, but the news is not all bad. These old tropes should give us cause for fresh hope. Stick with me, as we briefly review the evidence.

First up: Justice Alito, who was presented with photographs of an upside-down flag flying in front of his house. The flag is a symbol of the "stop the steal" movement, whose adherents say the 2020 presidential election was stolen; the photograph was taken three days before President Joe Biden's inauguration and just over a week after the invasion of the Capitol. Alito bravely, manfully, clearly announced to the world that his wife did it.

"I had no involvement whatsoever in the flying of the flag," he told the New York Times in an emailed statement. "It was briefly placed by Mrs. Alito in response to a neighbor's use of objectionable and personally insulting language on yard signs."

Then there's Menendez, charged with 16 felony counts related to accepting cash and gold bars in exchange for furthering the interests of Egypt and Qatar, among others.

During opening statements in his trial last week, Menendez's lawyers said he was innocent of wrongdoing. The blame, they said, instead lies with his wife, Nadine — currently being treated for grade 3 breast cancer — who allegedly "kept him in the dark" about her money woes and the creative but not necessarily legal steps she took to address them.

If it's good enough for a New Jersey Democrat, apparently, it's good enough for a California Republican. When Rep. Duncan Hunter was indicted along with his wife on federal charges of stealing more than a quarter of a million dollars in campaign funds, he said, in effect, "that's on her." He had given her power of attorney and she handled their finances. "So, whatever she did," Mr. Hunter said in an interview, "that'll be looked at, too, I'm sure, but I didn't do it."

Sen. Ted Stevens, a legend in Alaskan politics, one of the most powerful Republican senators, tried it, too, back in 2008. He was charged with accepting and then covering up more than $250,000 in bribes that were delivered in the form of home renovation expenses. I'm sure by now you can guess his excuse: Don't blame me; the home renovation was my wife's project.

Which is pretty much exactly what a former Virginia governor, Robert F. McDonnell, told the court, back in 2014, when he and his wife, Maureen, were charged with using the favor of the governor's office in exchange for loans and lavish gifts.

Ever since Adam bit the apple and Eve took the rap, women have been blamed for their husbands' missteps. How many wives did Henry VIII dispose of, by various means, for his own failure to produce a male heir? Lady Macbeth didn't actually kill anyone — and yet she's seen as her story's villain; while her murderous spouse gets at least a partial pass.

This recent flurry of wife-blaming isn't just morally dubious; it's illogical. If Alito disagreed with his wife's very public gesture, he has had more than three years — and counting — to dissent. Martha-Ann Alito may have hoisted that flag, but at this point Samuel Alito owns it.

So why is this flimsy excuse getting trotted out again and again? Maybe it's all an anxious reaction to the era of ascendant female power, of #MeToo and Taylor Swift and Beyoncé and Barbie and Caitlin Clark. It's a great time to be a famous woman, though less so to be a pregnant woman in Texas or Alabama, and some men are still figuring out how to navigate the new terrain.

On the other hand, blaming the missus may just be an irresistibly convenient excuse, equally handy in any era. Women! Can't live with 'em, can't trust 'em not to hang the American flag upside down and hide gold bars in the closet, amirite?

All this finger-pointing might be dispiriting to those who wish for women to be entire people, real and flawed and multidimensional, not just saints or scapegoats. However, if you squint and tilt your head just so, you might discern the faintest glimmer of progress. Because, even as these stories feature men cheerfully tossing the women they pledged to love and to cherish under the bus, they also position those women as their own people with their own independent agency. It's a debate I can hardly believe we are still having, but here we are.

When a Supreme Court justice blames his wife, he is also acknowledging that his wife has the ability to act on her own ideas, has a mind confoundingly of her own. When a congressman or a senator blames his wife for financial chicanery, he's also saying that she had the power to make important decisions for herself or her family. When a male politician blames his wife for soliciting bribes and hiding their fruits from him, he's telling us — however self-servingly — that she was smart enough to pull the wool over his eyes.

And as a new generation of pilloried wives take their turn in the headlines, it's worth considering their predecessors, who were not blamed for things they did, or might have done, but instead shamed for things that were done to them. Better, perhaps, to be Mrs. (Duncan) Hunter than Mrs. (Eliot) Spitzer or Mrs. (Mark) Sanford or Mrs. (Anthony) Weiner or of course Mrs. (Bill) Clinton, all of whom endured searing scrutiny and cloying pity when their husband's sex scandals were revealed.

Better, perhaps, to be the wife whose husband says, "I did not hang that flag upside down" — or take those bribes, or steal that money — thereby making you the focus of the nation's blame — than one whose husband says, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman" and leaves you the object of its ridicule.

Jennifer Weiner is the author, most recently, of the novel "The Breakaway." This article originally appeared in the New York Times.