The Lessons Of Nannygate

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By instituting the Zoe Baird standard, Clinton has tilted the pool of potential appointees away from working parents toward the single, the childless, those with grown kids and even, God forbid, the millionaire types with stay-at-home wives who have dominated government for eons. (Sure, some of these folks could be vulnerable because they've employed maids and gardeners without paying taxes. But, provided such workers are not illegal aliens, an employer can argue that they are "independent contractors" responsible for their own paperwork.) The Cabinet is already shaping up to reflect this bias, at least where women are concerned. Of Clinton's top female appointees, Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala and now Reno are unmarried and have no children; Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary and U.N. Representative Madeleine Albright have grown kids; only EPA chief Carol Browner has to worry about child care. So much for the President's vaunted vow to create a government "that looks like America."

Maybe it's time for the President to stage one of those New Age, public- confessional scenes that lofted him through so many rough spots during the campaign. If he could admit to trying marijuana and having marital problems, why not admit that the nanny litmus test is a mistake? He could bring on the cameras, sit in front of a glowing hearth in the White House family quarters and pensively bite his lower lip. "As working parents," one can imagine him saying, "Hillary and I understand the anguish of searching for quality day care for children." He could insert some touching anecdote about the time Hillary and he were on the road, Chelsea had the chicken pox and the baby- sitter failed to show. He might also mention that the lack of reliable, affordable child care is the single biggest obstacle to getting poor women off welfare and into jobs. The arduous search for a woman Attorney General, he would then admit, has only underscored the nation's child-care woes, which affect the privileged as well as the poor. Then an announcement: in an attempt to address the problem, the President would order a major re-evaluation of the tax and immigration laws governing domestic workers and a new effort to create affordable child care for the poor. It would be good political theater. It would be popular. And it would be right.

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