Care and Equality: Inventing a New Family Politics

Overview

Who is now caring for America's children, for the elderly, the sick, the disabled? In practical and general terms, the answer is: nobody.. "According to Mona Harrington, the traditional system of caregiving - until now almost entirely dependent on the unpaid labor of women in the home - is in a chaotic state of disrepair, as women, out of necessity, move into the workplace.. "Harrington issues an urgent call for new political conversations about assigning responsibility for this important part of the "general ...
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Overview

Who is now caring for America's children, for the elderly, the sick, the disabled? In practical and general terms, the answer is: nobody.. "According to Mona Harrington, the traditional system of caregiving - until now almost entirely dependent on the unpaid labor of women in the home - is in a chaotic state of disrepair, as women, out of necessity, move into the workplace.. "Harrington issues an urgent call for new political conversations about assigning responsibility for this important part of the "general welfare" that the Constitution charges us to promote. Care must now, Harrington argues, become the joint responsibility of the family, the private employer, and the various levels of government.. "Outlining a new pro-family politics that recognizes the need of individuals for both autonomy and intimate, lasting connection to others, Harrington proposes policies that include efforts to prevent teenage pregnancy, public support for single-parent families, public and private support for the relief of stresses on marriage, and an effort to bring many more voices into policy discussions.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
"In spite of the fact that most American women are in the paid workforce, we have not taken full account of what that means. We are operating as if they were still at home much of the time taking care of their families," writes Harrington in this book, which examines the collapsing care system and suggests solutions for establishing a new one. Harrington, an attorney and author (Women Lawyers, LJ 1/94), believes that women are unlikely to return home to do care work, for reasons of both economics and equality. Therefore, she says, care must be adopted as a national priority. After evaluating liberal positions on family and care issues, Harrington urges liberals to promote policies that provide meaningful support for care systems and explore new responses to the continuing collapse of those systems. This thorough and thoughtful look at the issues is strongly slanted toward liberal, government-centered solutions. An optional choice for academic political science collections.--Jill Ortner, SILS, SUNY at Buffalo Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
'Through the frayed curtain at my window, a wan glow announces the break of day. My heels hurt, my head weighs a ton, and something like a giant invisible cocoon holds my whole body prisoner.' Thus begins the remarkable testimony of Bauby, who was editor-in-chief of French 'Elle' when he was felled by a stroke in December 1995. The stroke left every inch of his body paralyzed—except for his left eyelid, which he could blink. But his mind was fully alive, capable of the whole range of thought and feeling from dry wit to sadness to tenderness, and by blinking in response to letters recited by an amanuensis, he dictated 'these bedridden travel notes' about being locked inside his body. It shows that his rich heart, too, was alive and beating, but it finally gave way in March of this year, two days after the French publication of his book.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375400155
  • Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/31/1999
  • Pages: 206
  • Product dimensions: 6.60 (w) x 9.57 (h) x 0.98 (d)

Meet the Author

Mona Harrington, the author of Women Lawyers, received her law degree and doctorate in political science from Harvard University. She served as a lawyer for the State Department, raised three children, and taught politics and women's studies before turning to writing full time. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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Read an Excerpt

From Chapter One

Years now after the event, I can still see Zoe Baird leaning toward the microphone before the Senate Judiciary Committee, eyes puffy, mouth tight, trying to be understood, explaining again and again why she had hired illegal aliens as nanny and chauffeur, and why she had not paid Social Security taxes on them, while she worked in the top managerial ranks of the Aetna Insurance Company -- and why this should not bar her appointment to the office of attorney general.

Baird was a forty-year-old lawyer who had worked briefly in the Justice Department and a big Washington law firm before turning to in-house corporate work and rising quickly to become general counsel at Aetna. This, like most high positions in the legal profession, was a demanding job, requiring long and unpredictable work hours. The rest of the picture follows the familiar pattern etched by the experience of working women throughout the country. Baird was the mother of a small child. Her husband also worked long hours. They needed extensive child care.

But here Baird's story differed from that of most families. She had a stunningly high income -- $500,000 a year -- which allowed hiring a couple to provide domestic help on a full-time, live-in basis. Nonetheless, Baird told the committee, she and her husband had had difficulty finding such help, particularly a qualified live-in nanny, which is why they had ended up hiring immigrants who had entered the country illegally. Then they had made the mistake -- following legal advice, she said -- of not paying Social Security taxes while proceedings to legalize their employees' status were under way.

Bill Clinton, as president-elect,announced Baird's nomination for attorney general with his last batch of cabinet selections on Christmas Eve 1992, fulfilling pledges to have his cabinet set before Christmas and to have it "look like America," with the faces of women and minorities breaking up the usual array of white males. He was not concerned about the irregularities in Baird's home-help arrangements, which she had disclosed as soon as she had become a serious candidate. Everyone involved with the cabinet selections had thought the matter would be resolved when Baird straightened out the tax question, which her lawyers were doing.

But when Senator Biden, as Judiciary Committee chair, reviewed Baird's record in preparation for her confirmation hearings, alarm bells went off. What Biden feared was an outburst of populist resentment against the wealthy who lived as if bothersome laws did not apply to them. This was the message he had conveyed to the newly sworn-in president in the midst of inauguration festivities--to no immediate avail. The matter still did not seem highly serious to the Clinton staff.

In spite of his forebodings, then, Biden began the hearings on January 19, the day before the inauguration, and they resumed on the twenty-first, only to end, ignominiously, late that night. In the meantime, a sudden deluge of phone calls had poured in to the Senate and to radio talk shows all around the country by people outraged about Baird and the nanny.

It was one of those occasions like the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas exchange -- also before the Judiciary Committee -- when a public issue suddenly touched off a high-voltage emotional charge. Newspapers were flooded with commentary. Discussions flared up everywhere, with people speaking passionately on all sides of the question. At a business lunch, a woman I did not know well suddenly and tearfully poured out a story about hiring illegal help herself when she was desperate to find at-home care for her dying mother. She couldn't afford the going rate for regular round-the-clock nursing, and her other choices were to leave her mother in a nursing home where care proved unreliable, or to quit her job and try to nurse her mother herself. Later she learned that her nearly helpless mother would have been eligible for a higher level of nursing-home care had her illness been correctly diagnosed. Serious physical and mental debilitation had been ascribed to Alzheimer's disease; an autopsy revealed a brain tumor. Since that information came tragically late, the solution had been to hire an illegal alien, a trained nurse who, without a green card, had no choice but to take live-in work at lower-than-standard nursing wages.

In another gathering, when I was defending Baird as stuck in a tangle of bad choices, a friend exploded in anger precisely over the issue of caretakers without choices, the issue of exploitation. This was a black woman, a college professor, and she recalled furiously the generations of black women who served as live-in help in white homes because they, like illegal aliens, had few alternatives. "We won't do that anymore!" she shouted. "And no one else should have to do it either!" She added that she never even hired cleaning help, "because no one else should have to clean up my dirt." I argued that dirt isn't the problem; you can go to work and leave it there, which you can't do with kids. But she wasn't really arguing about dirt. She was arguing about inequality and injustice. And she had no sympathy for Zoe Baird and others in her position who were handing their work off to other, less fortunate women.

If I was taken aback by the reaction of friends and acquaintances, senators who had to go on record for or against Zoe Baird were appalled. The instant public reaction, the anger, the volume of calls, their ubiquitousness, moved one after another to quick declarations of nonsupport for her appointment. It all ended when Baird asked the president to withdraw her nomination in a hastily drafted exchange of letters released to the press at 1:30 a.m. on January 22.

The intensity of popular reaction to what was immediately dubbed Nannygate was remarkable, but the more so as Bill Clinton and his transition team were completely blindsided by it. Senator Biden had expected trouble, but even he, on the evidence of his public remarks, did not grasp the depth of the problem that Baird represented.

A telling moment in this whole story is the point at which Senator Biden talked to President Clinton at the inauguration lunch. These two men were Democrats. Both stood somewhere -- not very far out, but somewhere -- in the liberal wing of their party. Clinton, after all, had expressed his liberal allegiances by deliberately opening up high office to groups previously excluded from power by sex or race. Biden and Clinton together, conferring at lunch, were looking at the same set of facts: the nominee for attorney general had broken immigration laws by hiring undocumented workers to take care of her child and household, and had broken Social Security tax laws, apparently to protect the workers against deportation. But looking at these facts, each man saw different things. Biden saw class conflict. Clinton, we have to assume from his lack of alarm, saw a commonplace situation--laws so widely broken under the pressure of great demand for scarce domestic help that neither immigration nor tax officials paid much attention to the issue. For him, it was a technicality.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Prologue: A Cast of Characters in a Drama of the '90s 3
Pt. 1 Taking Care Seriously
Ch. 1 The Care-Equality Problem Enters Politics 11
Ch. 2 A Collapsing Care System 25
Ch. 3 Care as a National Political Value 44
Pt. 2 Embracing the Family
Ch. 4 Moral Panic: Sex, Families, Politics 63
Ch. 5 Social Morality and Liberal Family Values 80
Pt. 3 Adding in Equality
Ch. 6 Equal Authority: The Motherhood Problem 101
Ch. 7 Equal Authority: The Warrior Problem 119
Ch. 8 Equal Opportunity: The Problem of Private Authority 138
Pt. 4 Opening New Political Channels
Ch. 9 A Break in the Order 159
Ch. 10 A New Politics of Conversation 176
Notes 189
Index 199
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