Clinton unfair in screening, women say

February 07, 1993|By Catherine S. Manegold | Catherine S. Manegold,New York Times News Service

Women across the country reacted with immense frustration yesterday at what they perceived as a growing double standard for men and women being considered for the Clinton Cabinet.

Many said they understood and agreed with President Clinton's decision to withdraw his support of his first choice for attorney general, Zoe Baird, after it was learned that she had broken the law by employing an illegal alien. But they said they were astounded that U.S. District Judge Kimba M. Wood of New York, a strong candidate who had not violated the law, should also be forced out of competition because of similar questions about whom she hired to take care of her child.

"Kimba Wood got caught in the wave created by the Zoe Baird situation," said Susan Estrich, a law professor at the University of Southern California. "I didn't have a lot of sympathy for Zoe Baird. She knowingly broke the law though she had the financial resources to do otherwise. But what is disconcerting here is that we seem to have created an atmosphere where someone who did not break the law is nonetheless barred from serving."

Amid the political cacophony set off by the disclosure that Judge Wood was withdrawing from consideration as attorney general because of her hiring of an illegal alien, a single theme was sounded by women around the country yesterday: Would a potential Cabinet appointee who was also a father have stumbled across the same minefield?

The answer, from women in and out of politics, was an angry and consistent "no," often voiced with complaints about double standards. Many of the women also questioned what the White House had indicated was Judge Wood's second liability: that for five days two decades ago, she had trained to work at a Playboy club in London while attending the London School of Economics.

"For every man who has ever been confirmed to a Cabinet position, there has never been the notion of disclosure of his housekeeping arrangement, much less how much time he spent with his child," said Kathleen Brown, the treasurer of the state of California. "It has never been on anyone's mind. It just doesn't come up for male nominees to think about their pattern of child care as a matter for political disclosure or an FBI search."

Many women said they were outraged at suggestions by the White House that Judge Wood's brief stint as a trainee at the London Playboy Club could have subjected her to ridicule, and they criticized both the Clinton administration and the news media for making it an issue.

Although it was impossible yesterday to determine precisely how the majority of Americans felt about Judge Wood and her fate, it was clear that many women, particularly well-educated and working women, felt that the judge was being hurt by the president's political calculations.

Most women drew a distinction yesterday between the case of (( Ms. Baird, President Clinton's first nominee, and Judge Woods, remarking that Ms. Baird had knowingly violated immigration laws by hiring illegal aliens to help with child care and other domestic work while Judge Wood had not.

Yet it was precisely that point -- the fear that such a distinction would not be made by the public -- that seemed to have driven the White House to sideline Judge Wood's nomination.

"The logical, rational argument is that these situations were entirely different," said William A. Carrick, a Democratic strategist who worked with Sen. Dianne Feinstein's campaign in California. "But on a political level, I think it would have been almost impossible to differentiate."

Mr. Carrick said he expected the grass-roots reaction to mirror the anger over the Baird nomination.

Yet beyond the specifics of the two cases, there was a general sense that women were being held to a higher standard than men in the appointment process and were subject to an additional layer of questioning that men have never had to endure.

Rep. Patricia Schroeder, D-Colo., said she empathized with women across the country who had to juggle careers and family life. She said that when she began her career in politics, she was often asked about her greatest fears.

"People used to say, 'Well, you're a freshman, so what scares you most?' " she recalled in a telephone interview yesterday from Denver. "I never batted an eye. I always said it was losing my housekeeper because I knew that then I would have to start this horrible process of finding somebody all over again."

By late yesterday afternoon, some groups were already preparing objections to the way the two candidates for attorney general were treated.

In Memphis, Tenn., where the National Organization for Women was holding a board meeting, leaders agreed to launch a fax, telephone and Mailgram campaign to highlight the different treatment given to men and women during the selection and confirmation process, said Patricia Ireland, the group's president.

"What we want to know is what arrangements all the men in the Cabinet have made for their child care," she said.

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