Saturday, December 11, 2004

Contrary to popular belief, it is possible for men to get Nannygated. Bernard Kerik, President Bush's nominee for Secretary of Homeland Security, has withdrawn his nomination after revealing that he employed a housekeeper who was an undocumented immigrant and failed to pay employment taxes for her.

You may remember that the term "Nannygate" originated in the Clinton admnistration, when two female attorney-general nominees were forced to withdraw their nominations after it was revealed that they had hired undocumented immigrants to do domestic work and had failed to pay employment taxes for those workers. It's unlikely that they were the first cabinet nominees whose families had committed those crimes, and at the time, it seemed like these were violations that could only disqualify women. Domestic tasks are women's work, and if a woman isn't doing them herself, it's her, not her husband's, responsibility to oversee her substitute. And besides, a woman who is not cleaning her own house is already a bad, deviant woman.

(I should state that I don't agree with the Barbara Ehrenreich line that it is always wrong or exploitative to hire domestic labor. And as I'm very ambivilent about immigration control in general, I don't have a problem with hiring undocumented workers, although I am troubled by the many ways in which undocumented domestic workers are more susceptible to exploitation than people who are working legally. But I think it is categorically abhorrent to fail to pay social security and unemployment insurance. That stuff is about workers' fundamental rights to dignity and security, and that should be non-negotiable.)

It's possible that Kerik's resignation marks an improvement in gender ideology: men, as well as women, are now being held responsible for decisions about domstic labor. But I suspect this is really a symptom of something else. Immigration is increasingly being subsumed into the "homeland security" rubric, and hiring an undocumented worker is seen as an affront against the principals that it would have been Kerik's job to uphold. To me, that development is troubling. The Bush administration is committing wholesale assault on civil liberties in the name of "national security," and undocumented immigrants have already been vulnerable to arbitrary incarceration and other violations of what are, for the rest of us, basic Constitutional rights. By lumping undocumented aliens with terrorists, the government is just going to make it that much easier to oppress immigrants. I suspect that Kerik's withdrawal is a sign of the ways in which things are getting worse, not better.

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