By Ana Marie Cox, Guardian UK
Until now, the Republican ‘war on women’ was mostly a meme wielded by Democrats. But Mitt’s mask has slipped on equality.
itt Romney’s real success in the first presidential debate was to not emerge from the wings wearing horns and carrying a pitchfork, demanding that all the women in the audience submit immediately to transvaginal ultrasounds and relieving them of 23 cents for every dollar they happened to have on them. That is what the Obama campaign – with the help of many elected Republican officials who have been championing policies that slip easily into such shocking scenarios – prepared swing voters to expect.
When, instead, he came off as genial and direct, a proclaimed lover of both Big Bird and green energy, a lot of Americans appeared to accept this version of Romney. Polling in the immediate aftermath of the first debate showed that the Obama-Romney gender gap, which had been as high as 20 points in some states, had shrunk to almost nothing. Democratic pollster Celinda Lake told USA Today:
“Women went into the debate actively disliking Romney, and they came out thinking he might understand their lives and might be able to get something done for them.”
In Tuesday night’s second presidential debate, however, Mitt Romney not only failed to further his case that he understood women’s lives, he made the mistake of revealing exactly what it is he might be able to do for them: commission a “binder full” of their resumes.
Right. I guess this is what makes him a “small-government conservative”. Forget creating a law that allows women to sue for equal pay (the Ledbetter Act, Obama’s first major piece of legislation); just personally hire a woman every once in a while.
There were certainly moments that I found more offensive than Romney’s unintentionally hilarious creation of a new collective noun (“a binder of women” – like, you know, a convocation of eagles), even though it edged right up to the margins of implying actual physical harm. (Binder? I hardly knew her!) There was, for instance, his weird insistence that traditional families could prevent gun violence – as everyone knows there were no mass shooting murders until gay marriage was invented in 2003.
And there’s the fact that Romney’s whole “binder full of women” anecdote was completely bogus: he commissioned no such binder; it was provided to him by a bipartisan coalition of women’s groups, which had created it prior to his election. Further, the number of women working in Massachusetts government actually went down during his tenure. I guess it wasn’t really that full a binder.
The biggest problem with making voters believe that Romney (or the Republican party in general) is conducting a “war on women” has been, up until now, that Romney and his colleagues just don’t seem very scary. The children’s show aficionado and advocate of cautious capitalism of the first debate is a case in point, but even the more combative presence in New York on Tuesday evening doesn’t seem like someone that would do women any harm (though he would totally hit Obama if he could).
But the war on women is something more pernicious even than a “cold war”. Not only do we rarely see a true battle (exception provided by Todd Akin), but one of the major combatants doesn’t really believe their actions count as aggressions. In a contest over civil rights, after all, the oppressor doesn’t feel any pain until they start to lose.
Romney just got a paper cut. We’ll see if he can make the bleeding stop by election day.