Claire Shipman’s flexibility

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Over at the Federalist, Mollie Hemingway flags this excerpt from a recent Washingtonian profile of of ABC News contributor Claire Shipman (wife of White House Press Secretary Jay Carney): “Shipman,” the Washingtonian notes, “works part-time now for ABC News, something she’s done for five years, which has given her more flexibility to write and hang out with her children. Flexibility, she says, is what most working mothers really want.”

Lovely, that.

Interestingly, a lot of moms make similar choices — and kudos to them. But here’s the problem: The decision Shipman made to work part-time serves as a microcosm to help explain the pay gap that Carney and his boss, President Obama, spent the better part of last week demagoguing as evidence of gender discrimination — all part of their larger war on the Republican “war on women.”

Call it hypocrisy or irony, but I’m reminded of two similar things — one from a few years ago — and one I just discovered.

First, the old one. During the 2008 Republican National Convention, then-MSNBC’s Norah O’Donnell suggested that maybe — just maybe — Sarah Palin should be home with her child (instead of running for vice president.)

O’Donnell was, herself, a busy working mom — married to a busy restaurateur. And yet, here she was suggesting (albeit in the “some people are saying” style of questioning) that Palin’s family would be better served if she were … baking cookies and standing by her man? — it’s unclear. Palin made a decision that would normally be applauded by feminists, but — because of her politics, I suppose — was subjected to a certain amount of suspicion. Shipman, in comparison, is the more traditional conservative, and is earning plaudits.

The second thing I’m reminded of is this: Veep star Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi were recently quoted in the New York Times dispensing some terrific advice about marriage (both have been married just once).

“[M]y marriage and my family have been a priority, said Louis-Dreyfus. “That may sound stupid. Many people would say exactly that. But I worked very, very hard to keep us intact. And it’s been my pleasure, because it’s the only way I could have survived in this business — with my family unit in place.”

“A successful marriage is a decision,” added Pelosi. “You decide it’s going to work.”

In Shipman, Louis-Dreyfus, and Pelosi, we see another interesting phenomenon: Liberal women living lifestyles one might associate with conservatism — or at least, traditionalism — while simultaneously advocating policies that would ostensibly have the result of incentivizing or encouraging opposite decisions (abortion on demand, postponing marriage, unwed motherhood, no-fault divorce, etc.)

Granted, these are very busy working women. But Pelosi didn’t run for Congress until after her kids were basically grown. Either way, both are eschewing the “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” philosophy, in choosing — not unlike Shipman — to be flexible, to make sacrifices, and, yes, to stay committed. (Note: Some will suggest the point is they are exercising a choice; I would push back with the broken guardrails theory — and argue that it is irresponsible to advocate policies which inexorably lead the masses to make different choices, all the while knowing that the educated elites will choose more prudently.)

Of course, this hypocrisy  cuts both ways. While these women are preaching liberalism and choosing traditionalism, how may conservatives are preaching family values, while living bacchanalian lifestyles? In both cases, the “good for thee, but not for me” philosophy can sound like a wholly rational decision.

Conservative politicians and opinion leaders can make a sort of elitist case that it’s okay for them to have fun, so long as they are advancing policies that would benefit the masses, who — after all — can’t afford to live this way. Meanwhile, yuppie suburban liberals can take solace in advocating tolerance and progressive policies — all the while choosing to live prudently and frugally — the way conservatives would like to see the masses behave.

I’m not sure which is better or worse.