In a tight presidential race, it’s dangerous to alienate American women, since they outnumber men and thus represent the majority of voters. But Mitt Romney has real difficulty talking about women without sticking his oversized foot in his overactive mouth. Now he’s in a real bind over his “binders full of women” blunder.
During their second debate, President Barack Obama challenged Romney on the issue of equal pay for equal work, bringing up the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Play Act, which was the first piece of legislation he signed as president, but which Romney and the Romulans (oops, Republicans) opposed.
Romney attempted to dodge the pay equality issue by claiming that as governor of Massachusetts he proactively requested the resumes of women qualified to join his cabinet. But Romney “didn’t go out looking for those binders,” according to Carol Hardy-Fanta, the former co-chairwoman of the Massachusetts Government Appointments Project. Rather, MassGAP initiated and spearheaded the process before Romney’s election and provided an unsolicited roster of qualified female candidates when he won. In an interview with National Review, Kerry Healey, Romney’s former lieutenant governor, confirmed that the binders in question came from MassGAP.
Fact checkers were also quick to point out that Romney never made a woman a partner during his entire tenure as CEO of Bain Capital, the ultimate rich boys’ club. So it seems Romney was blissfully unaware of the existence of a single qualified executive-level female until MassGAP finally opened his eyes.
According to The Huffington Post, one of Romney’s senior advisers, Ed Gillespie, said that if Romney had been president in 2009, he would not have signed the Lilly Ledbetter bill into law. “Is that leadership?” asked Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, pointing out that if Romney was president, “We wouldn’t have equal pay. I think that’s the point. He doesn’t lift a finger to do anything for women.”
Romney is on record as saying that it’s not his job to worry about the 47 percent of Americans who don’t make enough money to pay federal income taxes. He also seems to have few concerns about the 52 percent of Americans who face rampant pay discrimination in the job market. Does he, perhaps, come off as an elitist male chauvinist oinker because that’s what he is?
Lilly Ledbetter herself hit the nail squarely on the head in her comments reported by the Wall Street Journal: “I think women have gotten the message loud and clear from the other side — how they don’t believe in equal pay for equal work and they don’t believe that we women have the right to say what we should do with our bodies.”
Ledbetter also pointed out that before Roe vs. Wade, many American women bled to death from hemorrhages caused by illegal back alley abortions. While Romney tries to give the impression of being “empathetic” by deigning to allow abortions in cases of rape, incest and a woman’s life being imperiled, where does this leave most teenagers and working mothers who have accidents? Should patriarchal men’s beliefs about invisible gods and soul-infused microscopic cells trump women’s rights over their own bodies?
Ledbetter’s remarks about being “shortchanged” (the perfect word) by Romney, made at the Democratic National Convention are also germane: “Maybe 23 cents [per hour] doesn’t sound like a lot to someone with a Swiss bank account, Cayman Island investments and an IRA worth tens of millions of dollars. But Governor Romney, when we lose 23 cents every hour every day every month, it cannot just be measured in dollars.”
She concluded with: “What began as my own, is now our fight for the fundamental American values that make our country great.” She was, of course, talking about Americans believing in fair play and a level playing field for everyone.
But as President Obama pointed out during the second debate, Romney has a one-point economic plan: let the richest Americans acquire even more of the nation’s wealth and hope that a drop here and there trickles down to burdened masses, with most of those creating the trickles being rich, entitled men and most of the masses being discriminated-against women.
Ledbetter’s speech garnered one of the highest tweets-per-minute ratios during the recent conventions. Romney’s infamous phrase quickly became the third most-searched-for term on Google. So it seems that many American women are paying close attention, and my educated guess is that they are not at all amused by Romney’s blatant alpha male chauvinism.
Michael R. Burch is a Nashville-based editor and publisher of Holocaust poetry and other “things literary” at www.thehypertexts.com.