The Mommy Wars

By Emily Theroux

The “Mommy Wars of 2012” are over, a mere week after they began.

If you’re surprised, you’re giving Mitt Romney and his manufactured controversy operation too much credit. Approximately a week is about all it takes for Mitt to trip over the coattails of his own latest advantage in the presidential race. Mitt, you see, likes gloating so much that he inevitably blows it by simply opening his mouth again to utter unscripted speech.

After an early April poll revealed an 18-point gender gap between President Obama (54 percent) and Romney (36 percent) in 12 swing states, Romney turned to his wife, Ann, who continued to assure him that women were really interested in the national debt and the deficit, not in a raft of extremist Republican bills targeting women’s reproductive rights. Feeling his oats about what he considered a successful counterattack, Romney decided to hold a conference call between reporters and campaign staffers. The candidate, who tends to stray off-script during “press availabilities,” was wisely not included in what was touted as a confab about “issues of vital concern to women.” But simply not putting Romney himself on the line wasn’t enough of a “stop-gaffe” measure. When Sam Stein of The Huffington Post asked whether Romney supported the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the line went dead for a full six seconds, before a staffer spluttered, “Sam, we’ll get back to you on that.”

Fortunately for the dumbstruck Romney camp, they didn’t have to wait long to seize the next opportunity for oneupsmanship that fell into their laps. Enter minor Democratic operative turned CNN commentator Hilary Rosen, who appeared that very night on CNN to offer the token liberal perspective on the equal pay flap. “Guess what? His wife has actually never worked a day in her life,” Rosen said when asked about the advisability of Romney having relied on his wife as an adviser on the economy and “women’s issues.” Most pundits left out what Rosen said next: “She’s never really dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of the women in this country are facing.”

The GOP, finding itself backed into a corner, simply changed the subject. It wasn’t a Republican war against women; it was a Democratic war against motherhood! The mainstream media, seeking fuel for their next ratings bonfire, followed the GOP’s lead over the cliff as fast as their little lemming-legs would carry them. Rosen struck a match, as one salivating women’s magazine editor later described it, and inadvertently ignited the media firestorm that was hailed for an entire week as “the new Mommy Wars.” Although Rosen has no connection to either the DNC or the Obama reelection campaign, conservative pundits called her an Obama campaign adviser. Chief Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod told CNN’s John King, “She is actually your employee, not ours.” Both the president and the vice president got right out in front of the “issue,” deploring Rosen’s slights against stay-at-home mothers.

The TV machine was abuzz with tendentious commentary from the right about the trumped-up controversy. Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, without a hint of irony, said that the left should respect women’s choices. A representative of Bill Donohoe’s Catholic League tweeted: “Lesbian Dem Hilary Rosen tells Ann Romney she never worked a day in her life. Unlike Rosen, who had to adopt kids, Ann raised 5 of her own.” Sean Spicer, communications director for the Republican National Committee, added his own nonsensical retort: “The Catholic League should be encouraging adoption, not demeaning the parents who are blessed to raise these children.”

The whole ruse was working brilliantly – at least until that perpetual gaffe machine, Mitt Romney, screwed up once more and forfeited whatever “moral” ascendancy over Obama had caused everyone in the known universe to throw poor Hilary Rosen under the bus. First, Mitt trotted out his wife to praise “all working moms” at an unlikely venue – the annual convention of the National Rifle Association. Next, an enterprising NBC reporter captured on audiotape the overly loud remarks of Motormouth Mitt, addressing wealthy supporters at a Florida fund-raiser about his plans for two cabinet departments viewed by conservatives as obstacles to the emerging plutocracy. Far from being genuinely outraged about Hilary Rosen’s criticism, Ann Romney revealed on the same tape that she was delighted by the controversy and considered it her “early birthday present.” Finally, both Romneys, during an interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer, appeared to be measuring the White House drapes when Mitt said Obama should “start packing” and Ann said, “I believe it’s Mitt’s time,” and “It’s our turn now.” No humility for America’s would-be “First Mom,” apparently.

The jury is still out on whether the phony Mommy Wars controversy boosted Romney or hurt Obama with women voters. While a Pew Research Center poll released on April 17 revealed that Obama’s lead among all women slipped five percentage points since March to 13 points, subgroup data suggest a staggering gender gap among younger women that could become truly daunting for Republicans in the future. Among women aged 18 to 29, Obama is leading Romney by 45 points (70 to 25 percent)! If you expand that group to include men of the same age, Obama still leads Romney by 28 points (61 to 33 percent). As Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post points out, “Not since 1988 has a Republican presidential candidate won the women’s vote (and George H.W. Bush won women by only a single point).”

Our children are weathering this cultural crucible admirably, recycling that timeworn battle cry of earlier generations: “Don’t trust any (Republicans) over 30!” (Looking back on it, that’s what we really meant all along. We were just too young to realize it.)

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4 Responses to “The Mommy Wars”

  1. Randy Hurst Says:

    I simply loved your article! You captured the essence of the Romney aristocracy as well as the “Klan” whose support they inspire; their arrogance, ignorance, their hypocrisy and, yes, evil character. It is such a shameful commentary on all America that these two bullies capture, or more accurately, are able to buy, so much of media attention, and, to realize that they might also be able to buy their way into the White House makes me livid and ill at the same time.

    Write on

  2. Jeffrey Page Says:

    Even the most diehard Romney supporter — if he’s being honest with himself — would have to agree that your story is a terrific piece of insight and writing.

  3. Jean Webster Says:

    All I can say to your terrific piece is “AMEN TO THAT.”

    Speaking of “my turn,” I know many, many women who believe “It’s my turn now.”

    I admire your writing and your passion.
    Jean Webster

  4. Michael Kaufman Says:

    Nice piece, Emily. And, according to the ad accompanying it (through no fault of yours) we can all enter a contest to win a chance to meet and dine with Ann Romney!

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