Care and Equality: Inventing a New Family Politicsby Mona Harrington, Jean-Dominique Bauby
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… See more details below
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.
- Knopf Publishing Group
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- 6.60(w) x 9.57(h) x 0.98(d)
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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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