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Miss Utah vs. Barack Obama and Jay Carney

The Miss USA pageant was last night; it was won by Erin Brady, Miss Connecticut:

There is an interesting trend toward the Northeast in Miss USA, as last year’s winner (and this year’s Miss Universe) was Olivia Culpo, Miss Rhode Island. But today’s news about the pageant focused less on Miss Brady than on Marissa Powell, Miss Utah. Miss Powell was the third runner-up, but she was deemed to have said something stupid during the question session. The New York Post’s account is typical:

Marissa Powell, a 21-year-old Salt Lake City native, strutted across the stage in a sequin-lined dress Sunday, drawing a question from panelist NeNe Leakes.

“A recent report shows that in 40 percent of American families with children, women are the primary earners, yet they continue to earn less than men. What does it say about society?”

Let’s pause there for a moment. This statistic, which has been widely misunderstood, simply reflects the fact that an enormous number of households are not headed by a husband and wife, but rather by an unmarried mother. Those households, as we all know, are likely to be poor, in part because single mothers are mostly uneducated and low-skilled, and in part because it is hard to make a lot of money while having sole responsibility for children. I’m not sure that this tells us anything about “society,” except that it has an extraordinary tolerance for illegitimacy. No wonder Miss Utah was stumped!

She defaulted to that old chestnut, education:

Powell nodded along, pondering her response.

She considered the right words. She paused.

Then she opened her mouth.

“I think we can relate this back to education, and how we are continuing to try to strive … to … [Think! Think! She smiles, caught on some meandering, tangential wavelength] … figure out how to create jobs right now. That is the biggest problem right now.

“I think, especially the men are … um … seen as the leaders of this, and so we need to see how to … create education better. So that we can solve this problem. Thank you.”

Creating education better … wha?!?

So, OK, Miss Utah’s answer was not her finest moment. But here’s my complaint: Miss Utah is a 21-year-old beauty contestant. Yet her answer to the question about female-headed homes was subjected to more criticism, and more searching scrutiny, than anything that has been said by Barack Obama or Jay Carney in press conferences over the last four years. And let’s not kid ourselves: Powell’s answer at least equalled the coherence of the average pronouncement from Jay Carney when he gives press briefings, or President Obama when he tries to wing it without his teleprompter. Or Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, any time they step in front of the cameras.

So, hey, should we be tough on beauty pageant contestants? Sure. But wouldn’t it be nice to have a press that scrutinizes the President of the United States and his principal spokesman with as much energy as it does the third runner-up in the Miss USA pageant?

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