Said here last Monday that Zoe Baird...

NOTES ON ZOE BAIRD: I

January 25, 1993|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

NOTES ON ZOE BAIRD: I said here last Monday that Zoe Baird "shouldn't be confirmed," and I never wavered from that view -- but once.

That was last Thursday. I was watching her confirmation hearings on the tube. There was a whole lot of Role Reversal going on.

R.R. 1. Some conservative Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee were praising her and vowing to vote for her. Some liberal Democrats were expressing doubts.

R.R. 2. A senator named Dianne was quizzing Ms. Baird about law and order, crime in the street, narcotics, AK-47s. A senator named Joe interrupted to ask her about her daily routine at home and office and the nanny-chauffeur problem.

This got me to thinking about R.R. 3 and, sympathetically, I began to feel she should be confirmed.

She said she lived in New Haven and had to commute an hour each way to Hartford, where she was the new chief counsel of Aetna Life & Casualty. As the first woman in such a job, she said, she knew many of her fellow (and I do mean "fellow") workers would be alert to signs that as a woman and a mother with a young child she expected to or needed to be treated differently.

I think all women moving into previously all-male corporate, professional, commercial and trade worlds must feel this sense of extra obligation. And while that does not excuse making illegal decisions, it does explain why a busy and perhaps intimidated woman might do it.

R.R. 3 is that Mr. Zoe Baird is the ball of fluff in this family, duty-wise. While she's commuting an hour each way to a 9-hour- or 10-hour-a-day job paying $500,000 a year, he's a law professor, making a fourth that. They live within walking distance of his campus. So he strolls over two, three days a week to lecture, has office hours for students maybe every other St. Swithin's Day, grades a few papers, and the rest of the time he's hanging around the Malt Shop.

Yet she's responsible for taking care of the household chores?

It seems pretty clear that the Senate was not going to confirm Ms. Baird, even if the president fought for her. Senators did the right thing for the wrong reason, which brings me to R.R. 4. The Senate is supposed to be a deliberative body. It is supposed to consent or not consent to nominations to the cabinet on the basis of each individual senator's determination of the nominee's competence to do the job. In this case, there is a strong hint of spooked cattle, of a non-deliberative stampede, of public opinion at work. Many senators opposed solely because Jane Q. Public is anti-Baird.

This R.R. has been true of high visibility confirmation fights and other issues for a number of years. The House of Representatives, which is supposed to reflect and respond to public passions day to day, but whose members are relatively anonymous and unfearful of being ousted, now often performs the old Senate role of doing what members think is right, popular or not.

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