Calling a politician out for being a hypocrite is so easy, there’s just no sport in it. It’s almost redundant — as Martin Sheen’s character famously said in “Apocalypse Now” — like giving out speeding tickets at the Indy 500.
But once in a great while, some propped-up empty suit of a candidate goes so far over the hypocrisy line that you just have to say something, out of a sense of sheer decency. Your intelligence can only take a finite number of insults, after all.
Thus is the case this week with presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the Republican Party who backs him and the plight of working women.
But, back to the beginning. It all started last week when someone asked Romney about the struggles of working women, and he deferred to his wife, Ann, saying he’s talked to her, and she gave him insight and practical advice.
That tidbit was seized upon by Democratic pundits, whose eyebrow-raising bemusement was voiced by strategist Hilary Rosen, who questioned Mrs. Romney’s bona fides on the subject, saying, “Ann Romney never worked a day in her life.”
Rosen’s point, that the born-rich, married-rich and still-filthy-rich Ann Romney is a poor choice of advisor on the day-to-day tribulations of working moms, was lost in the resulting brouhaha, as the GOP launched into full outrage mode, saying that President Obama, who somehow became an extension of Hilary Rosen, has no respect for women who work inside the home.
“I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys,” Ann Romney tweeted huffily. “Believe me, it was hard work.”
Yes, raising children, especially five boys, is a handful for any mom. Most mothers, though, don’t have the advantages Mrs. Romney enjoyed — specifically, having a small army of maids, nannies, an au pair, housekeepers, cooks and gardeners to do the hard work for them.
Raising five boys was such hard work, Ann Romney hardly found time to ride her dressage horses or attend yachting classes.
Think of all the hard working yet struggling moms you know. Any of them own dressage horses, or even have the slightest idea what dressage is? Probably not. They’re too busy washing and ironing clothes, cleaning the house, helping with homework, paying the bills and stretching the meager grocery budget as far as it can go.
Mitt, God bless him, waded into the fray with this tidbit, “All moms are working moms.” It’s a nice sound bite, and certainly applies to the vast majority of moms in America, but not necessarily the ones who take weekly yachting classes.
Just a few weeks ago, this same Mitt Romney defended the welfare-to-work program he signed into law as Massachusetts’s governor by saying low-income moms on the public dole “need to learn the dignity of work.”
Wait a minute, you say. If poor moms need to learn the dignity of work outside the home, how come rich moms don’t? Don’t they deserve the same dignity, or could it be that the work ethic of the wealthy should remain unquestioned, while that of the working poor should be attacked at every turn?
The worst of it is that the whole supposed controversy was completely made up, and played like a violin by the GOP. Ann Romney admitted as much herself, when she giddily described Rosen’s comments as “an early birthday gift” in an interview with ABC News.
See, the Republicans know full well they’re anywhere from 16 to 20 points down among women voters, according to recent polls. This, by the way, is entirely their own fault.
From criminally invasive abortion requirements, to their opposition to the Family Medical and Leave Act, to the asinine attempt to limit women’s access to birth control, to Romney’s own refusal to support the Ledbetter Act, which ensures women equal pay for equal work, the GOP record on women’s issues has come into sharp focus in recent months.
But rather than admit their own policies are hurting them with the single largest voting bloc, they’ve tried to somehow shift the woman-hater label onto Obama — which is ridiculous on its face. Obama, who elevated two women to the Supreme Court, has long been a champion of women’s rights. In fact, the aforementioned Ledbetter Act was the first bill he signed into law upon taking office.
The GOP is afraid. They should be.
They’re hoping that those women who need to learn the dignity of work don’t also discover the empowerment of the voting booth.
Daryl Gale is the Philadelphia Tribune's city editor.
The so-called “Mommy wars” of working women vs. stay-at-home mothers which dominated media coverage for several days last week is a media manufactured controversy.
The phony controversy began with remarks by Hilary Rosen, a former lobbyist and now commentator on CNN who made comments on “Anderson Cooper 360” program that sparked a media frenzy.
Referring to a claim by Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney that he relied on his wife, Ann, to provide him insight into the problems of women, Rosen said, “Guess what? His wife has actually never worked a day in her life. She’s never really dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of the women in this country are facing in terms of how we feed our kids, how we send them to school… why do we worry about their future.”
Rosen somewhat awkward remarks were actually an astute comment about social class but it was falsely portrayed as an attack on stay-at home moms by the media and the Romney campaign.
The Romney campaign was eager to seize on the comments because it gave Romney an opportunity to go on the offensive when he had been losing the women vote in the polls to President Obama.
Romney has a real problem in his campaign: the alienation of million of women from the Republican Party due in part to the strident rightwing character of the Republican presidential campaign.
During the Republican presidential debates and throughout the primaries and caucuses, the Republican candidates all sought to appeal to social conservatives in their party with hard-line positions against abortion rights and contraceptives.
While appealing to the extremist base it alienates women voters, moderates and independents who represent critical votes in the general election in November.
Rosen’s remarks gave the Romney campaign the lifeline that it so desperately needed and gave the media another fake controversy to exploit.
The media firestorm that ensued after Rosen remarks resulted in the Obama campaign and several prominent Democrats rebuking Rosen’s remarks. Under pressure Rosen apologized while maintaining that her point was not to offend women who stay at home and raise their children but to point out the fact that most women today do not have that choice and are facing serious economic issues.
Rosen said in a written statement: “Let’s put the faux ‘war against stay at home moms’ to rest once and for all. As a mom I know that raising children is the hardest job there is. As a pundit, I know my words on CNN last night were poorly chosen.”
“I apologize to Ann Romney and anyone else who was offended,” she concluded. “Let’s declare peace in this phony war and go back to focus on the substance.”
American women and their families are facing declining living standards, increasing poverty and drastic cuts to social programs and education.
Instead of the distraction of a divisive decades-old cultural debate about the role of women in and out of the workplace there needs to be a real debate on the real issue affecting American women.
When Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen said that Ann Romney had “never worked a day in her life,” Romney behaved as if she had just hit the lottery. She smugly made the media rounds talking about how hard it was for her to raise her five sons. And she’s right. Stay-at-home moms work extremely hard to cook, clean, run a shuttle for their children and their various activities, participate in school activities like “Room Mom” and “Cookie Mom.” How do I know, having never had chick or child? A very dear friend, a Harvard-educated lawyer, has been mostly home with her children, one of whom is my godson, for the past decade or so, and it shows.
I digress. Hilary Rosen misspoke when she said Ann Romney had never worked. What she could have said is that Ann Romney never needed to work in the paid labor market. Even when Mitt Romney was in graduate school, they survived by living on the returns from their investments, according to them. So it isn’t that Ann Romney never worked, it is simply that she was never forced to.
This entire conversation is a blast from the past, reminiscent of articles that I wrote in the 1980s. Even then this was a mostly white women’s’ conversation since few Black women have or are married to the kind of wealth that would allow them to stay home. Conservative stay-home moms often say that people have to make sacrifices to stay at home, perhaps cutting out luxuries such as restaurant meals and extra clothing. But unless food is a luxury, there are Black women who are in the labor market simply because they have no choice.
The official unemployment rate among African Americans is 14 percent. The actual rate is more like 26 percent, and in many inner cities the Black male unemployment rate is nearly 50 percent. This is a burden to African-American women who often don’t have the economic assistance they need to raise a family. As a result of this burden, nearly 40 percent of African-American children live in poverty, too often supported by a single mom (more than 40 percent of African-American households are headed by women).
While there is a group of African-American stay-at-home moms called Mocha Moms, and there is little data to suggest the size of the African-American stay-at-home mom population, it is clear that historically, African-American women had no choice but work. I am not invoking ancient history when I reference the women who, as maids, were paid to take better care of their employer’s children than they could possibly take of their own. And then they were often paid in part with used clothes and leftover food substituting for cash.
Patriarchal tradition kept white women home, while white men were paid a “family wage” that was by definition enough to support a whole family. Such patriarchal tradition was not economically present in the African-American community. Few African-American men were paid a family wage, but instead something like a subsistence wage. Women needed to work to help keep the family together.
Until the late 1980s, the labor force participation of African-American women exceeded that of white women, which means that proportionately more of us were working. African-American women’s earnings often make the difference between poverty and comfort for their families. Mommy wars? Give me a break. Let’s talk about survival wars.
Even those African-American families who have been blessed with higher education and “good jobs” are well aware that African Americans are “last hired, first fired.” Too many so-called middle-class families are a paycheck or two away from poverty. Last time I checked, African-American households had only 2 percent of our nation’s wealth, hardly a cushion to fall back on, with few investment returns to live on when no one is working.
Tuesday was Equal Pay Day, which counts the extra days women have to work to earn as much as a man did last year. This hits women of all races, but it may hit African-American women harder.
We can only laugh and shake our heads at Hilary Rosen’s faux pas and Ann Romney’s smugness. We working African-American women, stay-at-home or in the paid labor force, understand that “life for us ain’t been no crystal stair” Educated or uneducated, middle class or working class, the labor market has never been a level playing field for us, and our salaries show it. Mommy wars? We fight survival wars in the workplace and in this economy. — (NNPA)
Julianne Malveaux is president of Bennet College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.
Oops! Just as President Barack Obama’s campaign was enjoying a big favorability advantage with women, a prominent female ally tripped over an old unwritten rule: Lay off your opponent’s kinfolk.
Team Obama rushed out like a bucket brigade to put out the fires after an on-air gaffe by Hillary Rosen, a Democratic strategist, CNN commentator and friend to many in the Obama White House. Or, at least, they were friends before she said on CNN that Ann Romney should not be advising her husband on women’s economic concerns since she’d never “worked a day in her life.”
Rosen apparently forgot that a more correct description, politically and factually, for the stay-at-home mother of five children would be “worked outside of her home.”
As the backlash hit the fan, Rosen apologized profusely in print and on CNN. And Ann Romney demonstrated her own effectiveness as an asset to the Romney campaign by responding with grace, wit and intelligence. “I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys,” she tweeted. “Believe me, it was hard work.”
Indeed. For supporters of Romney, suffering a double-digit deficit with women in the latest polls, Rosen’s comment was low-hanging fruit — which Team Obama counterattacked like locusts.
Yet Democrats suddenly found themselves on the defensive on a topic they have owned for weeks as they attacked a Republican “war against women.” Republicans now came back, charging a war by Obama against moms.
Rosen is not an adviser to President Obama, his campaign or the Democratic National Committee. But the Romney campaign was not about to let those inconvenient facts get in the way of a good attack campaign.
Romney surrogates and other supporters used Rosen’s remark as evidence that Obama doesn’t understand women or value mothers.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) claimed there was “clearly a connection between Rosen and the Obama administration” for many years, reporting that Rosen, an unaligned Democratic strategist, had “visited the White House 35 times.” White House press secretary Jay Carney later confirmed that Hilary Rosen has visited the White House “on a number of occasions for large events, large meetings having to do with communications, things like that.” But a visit doesn’t mean that she met with or advised the president.
Nevertheless, Romney’s supporters were eager to tie Rosen to Obama, whose people were just as eager to pretend they never heard of Rosen. Obama’s top advisors immediately condemned her remarks as “offensive and inappropriate.”
First Lady Michelle Obama weighed in with a tweet: “Every mother works hard, and every woman deserves to be respected.”
Rosen’s one-liner, by contrast, pinched the same mommy-war nerve that Hillary Rodham Clinton sparked in her remark during the 1992 campaign that instead of working as a lawyer, she “could have stayed home and baked cookies.” Them’s fightin’ words — and not just in Sarah Palin Land.
It is always hazardous to talk about an opponent’s relatives, Rosen surely knows, unless the opponent has made them an issue. Romney did that when he began to refer to his wife, whose ease with crowds makes up for many of her husband’s weaknesses, as his advisor on women’s concerns.
Rosen’s point, which she unfortunately stepped on, was a valid one to make. Ann Romney undoubtedly worked hard at being a mother, and her children appear to be excellent examples of her wise parenting. However, her experience is far from typical of the pressures most mothers face, whether they work outside the home or not.
The issues of women’s health, equal pay, education, day care and other concerns that have won favorable support for Democrats call for a better connection by Mitt Romney to the concerns of women who don’t have two Cadillacs, as Mitt once reported about his own wife.
Most American women don’t have the choices that Ann Romney could make in deciding whether to work outside of her home or stay home with her kids. That’s not a knock on her. It’s a description of the challenges that her husband and President Obama face in connecting with the lives and problems of American women. They make up more than half of the electorate. They need to be heard.