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Real Housewives of the Upper East Side

Boy am I tired of Upper East Side stay at home lawyer moms. Silda Spitzer, get a job! Caroline Kennedy, get an accountant!

The exquisitely refined, painfully aristocratic, snootily judgmental last heir of a dwindling line, Caroline Kennedy just withdrew from the contest to be appointed to the Senate, amid rumors that she had neglected to pay Social Security for one of her servants. Kennedy first led a groundswell of Kennedy family for Barack Obama during the primary. Having tasted a little personal political power in lining up the Kennedys for Obama, she decided the most exclusive club in the world would be a suitable second act in her public life. After all, she has a lot of experience in exclusive clubs and also caring for her children, often on the very day that she would otherwise have been going to the polling booth to vote in a series of, you know, elections. Oh, and writing books about the poems her late mother would have loved and little tales for Christmas.

Although not every one of the women I wrote about in my book, Get to Work, who announced their weddings in the New York Times Styles section was a Kennedy, she does greatly resemble the many Ivy-League educated and enviably affluent women whose stories of leaving work once they meet a rich husband or have a baby, have fueled the talk of the “Opt-Out Revolution.”
Like Caroline Kennedy, there is always a tantalizing possibility that these women might go back to work. The media are full of stories about businesses and business schools offering them “on-ramps” to try to enable them to go back to work despite the burdens of monitoring their children’s private schools and tending to the Wall Street guys who fuel their life styles. If you read the mommyblogs that these women spend their time generating, you will see that there are very few jobs they consider worthy of their efforts. Ramps on would have to involve lots of flexible time, freedom from annoying bosses, socially meaningful enterprises and personal trainers. (Okay, I made the part about the trainers up.) Like many of the Opt-Out Revolutionaries, Kennedy never showed any inclination to do the grubby work of trying to snare a job by, you know, campaigning, so an on ramp by appointment was just perfect.

Now it turns out that she wasn’t even willing to prepare herself for the crucible of public scrutiny by paying all the taxes on her household help. Why worry about what happened to President Clinton’s would-be Attorney General, the working lawyer Zoe Baird, when you can just sit at your Louis Quinze desk and dream of Senatorial togas?

The worst thing about l’affaire Kennedy is not the glimpse into the “so top drawer” lives of the too busy to vote stay at home moms of Park Avenue and their gray market household help, although in a democratic society it wasn’t exactly “Dreams From My Father.” The worst thing is that she still got treatment a man would never have endured. The day she withdrew with the usual spend more time with my family cover story, a Senate Commitee voted to confirm the appointment of Timothy J. Geithner to be Secretary of the Treasury, a position which includes responsibility for the Internal Revenue Service, even thought Geithner hadn’t even paid Social Security taxes for himself.

Unqualified candidate, sexist process. And I was just starting to miss Sarah Palin.

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Linda Hirshman

Linda Hirshman