WASHINGTON — For reasons that don’t interest me much, “girl fights” have always had a particular tug on our imaginations.
Thus, when consultant/pundit/Democrat Hilary Rosen commented on CNN that Ann Romney had never held a job (and therefore was ill-suited to advise her husband on women’s employment concerns), the body politic convulsed in paroxysms of outrage.
Oh, the elitist slander. How dare she! Being a full-time, stay-at-home mom is a job!
And off they went.
Stay-at-home moms (SAHMs) allegedly were insulted. Working mothers who allegedly envy SAHMs recoiled from the blinding truth of Rosen’s observation. Single moms with mouths to feed and no jobs allegedly were furious at the Romneys’ apparent cluelessness.
Regular folks, meanwhile, who know better than to argue about “women issues” when the political masses are engaged, somehow managed to get through another night without pondering whether the gender gap can ever be bridged.
Not so the pundit class, now fully deployed and dizzy with the ramifications of such troubling questions as: Has the (alleged) Republican “war on women” resurrected the alleged “mommy wars” of 20 years ago?
It should go without saying that this faux battle is silly and utterly off-point, not so much a clash of ideas as a peashooter contest in the Twitter Lounge. Yet, rather than treat it as such, everyone from the president of the United States to the Catholic League to the GOP and the DNC has felt compelled to inveigh.
President Obama, reminding folks that he was raised by a single mom, noted that women who stay home with children are doing hard work and that anyone who argues otherwise should “rethink their statement.” Rosen quickly rethunk and apologized for saying something true, which is never allowed in politics — but the heat is still high.
The fact is, Ann Romney has never held a job outside the home and, inarguably, doesn’t have the same experience as those scrapping to feed their families. But this has no bearing whatsoever on her ability to empathize with the challenges of others or whether she is attuned to women’s concerns.
If personal experience is a prerequisite for debate or commentary, then nobody gets to talk. Moreover, Ann Romney was merely trying to indicate what any woman should appreciate — that the sideline issue of contraception prompted by requirements included in Obamacare is not the primary concern of most women or of this election season, much as the Democratic Party and the Obama administration would like voters to think otherwise.
It was in this context, among others, that Mitt Romney has mentioned his wife as a political muse on women’s concerns. It is also in this context that Rosen’s remarks should be considered. She wasn’t insulting Ann Romney’s fortunate choice to stay home and raise her five sons. She was questioning whether she could relate to the everyday concerns of women who have been less lucky.
The comment should have been treated as off-point rather than conflated as some absurd attack on the stay-at-home mom. Instead, even some who pretend to a higher moral plane brought the debate to its lowest level, namely the Catholic League, which surely spoke for no one when it 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.”
Only gravel doesn’t know that the women’s vote is all-important this election season. Never mind the perennial insult that women are monolithic and only vote as their female parts dictate. Women, as Ann Romney has tried to point out, care about jobs and the economy because they are sentient human beings who do, in fact, work (57.7 percent of those over 16), or want to. And they do, in fact, worry that there will be no recognizable nation left if we don’t get serious about the debt and deficit in ways that don’t split the country into warring factions of haves and have-nots. Nothing like using women to emotionalize and distract from the hard work of governance.
Women and men should be angry, all right, but not at Ann Romney or Hilary Rosen, who are entitled to both their opinions and their choices without fear of censure or condemnation. Anger is better directed at those who take tiny utterances and inflate them into phony distractions. Visitors to preschool playgrounds have witnessed disagreements of greater import.
Kathleen Parker is a Washington Post columnist. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.