President Obama’s budget director Peter Orszag, who supposedly made “nerdy sexy,” is skedaddling from Washington before the huge budgetary Potemkin façades he erected come crashing down.
Orszag was the numbers-crunching guru who supplied the economic myths, er, rationale for Obamacare. The 2,000-page, trillion-dollar program would actually “bend the cost curve” down over the next decade, Orszag argued, without sacrificing quality and while serving 30 million new recipients. Uh-huh. It has been only three months since this Byzantine, but in any case unread, behemoth was passed, yet already the Congressional Budget Office has acknowledged that the legislation will cost $200 billion more than was projected at the time of passage.
The other economic assumptions undergirding Obamanomics — such as the idea that every dollar of stimulus spending would yield $1.50 in economic expansion — have been similarly short-lived. But as the budget director makes for the exits in advance of the sheriff, we should not let him go without reflecting on his peculiar social significance.
Peter Orszag was hardly the first prominent Washingtonian to lead a complicated personal life — but he may have been the first to achieve celebrity because of it. In January, Orszag made the gossip columns twice. His first accomplishment: The divorced father of two had just become a father again with ex-girlfriend Claire Milonas. Just weeks later, the father of three announced his engagement to ABC News correspondent Bianna Golodryga.
The Washington Post gossip column gushed: “Peter Orszag! What is it about that guy, and how did he become the Tom Brady of D.C.? . . . The romantic drama heightens the mystique surrounding President Obama’s youngest Cabinet-level appointee, who, in a city full of wonks, enjoyed a brief unlikely reign as Washington’s most eligible bachelor before his engagement. Something about those Harold Ramis-in-‘Ghostbusters’ looks, on a 6-2 marathoner’s frame, inspired Internet fan pages like Orszagasm.com. ‘He made nerdy sexy,’ Rahm Emanuel told the New York Times last year.
Cultural bellwether Jon Stewart — albeit with sarcasm and nonchalant polymorphous sexuality — joined in the adulation of the foxy policy guy.
Orszag and his ex, the mother of his new daughter, released a statement perfectly capturing the sexual morality that prevails in 21st-century America. “We were in a committed relationship until the spring of 2009. In November, Claire gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. Although we are no longer together, we are both thrilled she is happy and healthy, and we would hope that everyone will respect her privacy.” A “committed” relationship lasts only as long as both parties continue to feel committed.
If Orszag were a never-married single man dating prominent Washington women while being swooned over by a peculiar subset of women we can call policy groupies, that would be one thing. Perhaps not a very interesting thing, but there it is.
But he is divorced and the father of three. Just as a thought experiment, consider how a similarly situated woman would be covered: If a 41-year-old divorced mother of two young children were to have another child with a boyfriend and then announce her engagement to a third man, would she be considered a “hot” celebrity? The Obama administration’s “unlikely sex god” (Washington Post)? Would she escape censure if she maintained no relationship with the new baby?
Observing this double standard in years past, feminists strove to have women judged by the same standards as men. They didn’t succeed (even if they tell themselves they did). But isn’t it odd that they never attempted the opposite? What’s really needed is for men like Orszag to be judged as a woman, a mother, would be judged in identical circumstances. She would not be celebrated for jumping from bed to bed. She would be disgraced for abandoning a newborn. And so should he be. This panting admiration for a guy who behaves like a cad displays caveman morality. Oh, look how virile the skinny intellectual is! What a gorgeous gal he’s squiring today!
Yes, it’s understood that there are basic differences between the sexes and women are characteristically less given to abandoning their infant children than men are. But that’s irrelevant to the moral argument. A sensible society will stigmatize behavior that harms children. If women find it a little easier to comply, good for them. And by the way, for all the inarguable inequalities in the treatment of men and women in pre–Sexual Revolution days, Orszag’s behavior would have been unthinkable for a respectable man.
And still should be.
— Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2010 Creators Syndicate, Inc.