One Singular Sensation
Ed Rendell can’t believe that he’s being asked about the fact that he said that Barack Obama’s nominee for head of homeland security, Janet Napolitano, has “no life.”
“We’re facing the greatest crisis since the Depression, and you want to talk about this?” he complained.
This is exactly the kind of comment people used to make during the bad old days in New York, when cops ticketing cars for double-parking were always told that they should be out arresting murderous drug dealers. But what better time to have a diverting discussion about a governor’s misadventure with an open microphone? Really, there’s not much chance that we’re going to forget the big picture.
Rendell, who is governor of Pennsylvania, was chatting about Napolitano, the governor of Arizona, at a governor’s meeting (where else?) while lounging in the vicinity of a live mic. (They should put lights on those things that would flash red when they’re turned on.) He was explaining that Napolitano was “perfect” for homeland security “because, for that job, you have to have no life. Janet has no family. Perfect. She can devote, literally, 19-20 hours a day to it.”
This seemed to be the summation of Napolitano’s qualifications. Rendell himself has been on the list of Cabinet Mentions, and this is a good example of the way people around the world explain why another person got the prize instead: It was all about some random characteristic I happen to lack. (“Ted’s perfect for the job. Because for that job, you really have to speak Estonian.”) Perhaps a rather undesirable characteristic. (“For that job, you have to be able to drink those salesmen under the table and Ted’s an absolute lush.”)
And it sure sounded as if he was saying that single people like Napolitano exist in a state so dark and barren that the empty hours can only be filled up by guarding the nation’s borders against terrorists and preparing for the next hurricane.
You will not be surprised that Rendell — reached by phone in Pennsylvania and game as ever for conversation — feels as though he’s been totally, deeply and completely misunderstood.
“It was meant to include all workaholics,” said Rendell, who is married with a grown son. “I have no life. I’ll give you a perfect example.” He launched into a story about coming home late at night and watching a two-hour cable TV review of the Pennsylvania budget. Which actually, if you were a governor and it was your state’s budget, might be kind of fascinating.
“I have no life either,” he repeated. “But I couldn’t run Homeland Security because I don’t have the background.” It was about here, when he reached the exact opposite analysis from the one he made into the wrong microphone, that Rendell pointed out we were facing the greatest crisis since the Depression.
All this was a real blow to Bella DePaulo, the author of “Singled Out,” who had recently posted on her blog, celebrating the fact that after Napolitano’s nomination was announced, “I haven’t found any hints of singlism” in the articles about her.
“Oh, no!” she said, when reached by telephone Wednesday morning.
DePaulo says that “singlism” — a term she coined and for which we are prepared to forgive her — is not just aimed at unmarried women. She referred to an MSNBC interview that Chris Matthews had with the presidential candidate Ralph Nader in 2004, in which Matthews demanded to know how Nader could say George W. Bush was irresponsible: “He’s raised two daughters; he’s had a happy marriage. Isn’t he more mature in his lifestyle than you are?”
This did seem strange, since there are so many excellent reasons unrelated to marital status why Ralph Nader would make a terrible president. (The list does not, however, include “likely to let the big financial firms ruin the economy due to lack of regulation.”) To be fair, Matthews also asked Nader if the fact that he did not own a car meant that he had not “had an American experience.”
But it’s unmarried women at the top who often wind up portrayed as vestal virgins who live only to serve their chief executive. (Condoleezza Rice’s public image is so extreme that people must be wondering if she plans to immolate herself on the White House lawn during the inauguration.) Instead of being celebrated for their achievements, they wind up regarded as slightly fanatic.
And single women comprise between 43 percent and 51 percent of the adult women in the country, depending on how you count. They are universally regarded as folks with time on their hands, and thus the most likely recruits for taking care of aged parents, adjusting their schedules to accommodate their married friends and working overtime. “Employers ask you to cover for everyone else,” said DePaulo.
Which actually makes them sound busier than their married peers. So perhaps single Americans have too much life. It’s a wonder they have time for anything.
Link to article: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/04/opinion/04collins.html