Now here's another story of a prominent man in the public eye behaving badly. Yet this one is a little more improbable than others, because it doesn't concern a world-class athlete or A-list celebrity. It concerns the White House Director of the Budget, Peter R. Orszag.
The New York Post broke the story on its website last week with the titillating headline, "Obama's Budget Boss Jilts Baby Mama." The lead explains: "President Obama's geeky budget guru has a secret love child – with the Greek shipping heiress he jilted before hooking up with his hot new ABC News fiancée".
That's more or less the gist of the story, but I can flesh it out a little more for you (no pun intended). Orszag, 41, a divorced father of two young children, had a recent relationship with Claire Milonas, 39, a venture capitalist, which ended last March.As the relationship ended, Milonas discovered she was pregnant. In May, Orszag met Bianna Golodryga, the financial correspondent for ABC News, and they announced their engagement in prime time on December 28th. Three weeks before the announcement, Orszag and Claire's daughter, Tatiana Zoë, was born.
The Orszag story helps us ask some basic questions about sexual behavior in our society. If "the best and the brightest" can't manage their love and sex lives – and avoid getting dragged through the media mill to become the butt of late-show jokes – how can we expect teenagers to show good judgment about their hormone-laced lives? In other words: Who is modeling what for whom?
Orszag, who graduated summa cum laude from Princeton, certainly has the credentials to be listed among the "best and brightest." An American economist, he's currently the 37th director of the Office of Management and Budget and a member of Obama's cabinet. Among many other accomplishments, he earned a Ph. D. in economics from the London School of Economics.
Orszag may be brilliant with budgets, but perhaps he's a little too casual with condoms.
I wonder if he and his equally bright partner knew the expression "Double Dutch," a well-known phrase in the Netherlands that refers to couples' need to use two forms of birth control to protect against unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease.
Was this pregnancy just another of the surprisingly large number of unplanned pregnancies that occur among women in their 20s and 30s? Or, as a friend suggested, perhaps Milonas, at 39, consciously or unconsciously saw a good chance to become pregnant, decided not to use birth control, and knew that she has the means to raise a child. Perhaps she decided to get pregnant to keep her relationship from ending. If true, this implies a lack of trust and communication between the two lovers. No one ever said sexual relationships are easy or exist with zero consequences.
Yet what I find frustrating is the media's kid-gloves treatment of Orszag. The commentary has been almost positive and full of sly humor. Many have turned him into a hero of sorts – a candidate for People magazine's "Sexiest Man of the Year" – endlessly referring to him as a "Sexy Nerd" or "Sexy Geek." Some seem almost envious of him, fawning or flirting tongue-in-cheek over him (case in point: Jon Stewart).
A double standard is clearly at work. I'm quite certain that if the White House Budget Director were a woman engaged in sexual activities similar to Orszag's, the reaction would have been far more negative. I don't think "the guys" in the media would have been quite so jocular, shrugging off the story with a certain amount of pride, chuckles, and winks.
I know that Orszag did not "hurt" anyone in terms of the law – he did not rape/sexually assault anyone; he just didn't want to be with the woman who got pregnant. I feel more sadness, therefore, than anger about Peter Orszag, Claire Milonas, and their "secret love child." I'm sad that our society refuses to advertise condoms on primetime TV, so that using them would seem like a natural and normal activity for teens and adults.
Surely, if we used condoms more frequently and correctly, we'd cut down on our rates of unplanned pregnancy and most STDs. I'm also sad that adults forget that young people look up to them as role models – including models of how to behave in sexual relationships.
But since it's early in the New Year, I still have a reservoir of holiday spirit. So, I end by sending best wishes to everyone involved in this tale. Here's hoping that Peter Orszag will be able to mange his growing family and the growing federal budget deficit with equal aplomb.