Washington, D.C. -- that is, the so-called "official" Washington, where the lawmakers and media roam -- is not known for its long attention span. By now, Zoe Baird, Kimba Wood, and the other nominees and nearly nominees for U.S. attorney general in the Clinton administration are already well on their way to being end-of-the-year trivia answers.
But those few weeks of high anxiety for the Clinton administration, striving so hard for that cabinet that at least resembles America, holds interesting insights into our society in this year after the Year of the Woman.
A subtext of the Baird and Wood affairs is the assumption that the care of children, hearth, home, and garden is a woman's special, exclusive domain. A woman's administration of this domain, whether it be firsthand or through the hiring of domestic help (and including her choice to have children or not), becomes an implicit part of her resume.
This theme emerged initially because Baird's child care situation broke laws that as attorney general she would be required to uphold. However, the domestic subtext lingered -- not because other candidates under consideration showed evidence of ethical wrongdoing in their home or child care, but because they were women. (Who can name which male cabinet officials even have children, or who mops their floors or weeds their gardens?)
Judge Kimba Wood's child care situation was not illegal. She did not, however, make it even as far as being a nominee. Her legal hiring of an undocumented worker from Trinidad to babysit her child was seen as too dangerous politically. At that point, it was clear that the administration lacked the confidence it could keep a confirmation process focused on her qualifications for the attorney general position instead of her domestic situation.