Mitt Romney’s inelegantly daft boast, about how he supposedly ordered his male aides to give him “binders full of women,” has naturally sparked mass mockery on Twitter and Tumblr and elsewhere on social media. But, more importantly, his anecdote was vivid proof that he doesn’t have a clue how to communicate with working women voters.
There’s a big reason why Republican candidates traditionally do poorly with women — and why Romney, in the end, will likely suffer the same fate. A key exchange during Tuesday night’s debate said it all.
Question from a woman in the audience: “In what new ways do you intend to rectify the inequalities in the workplace, specifically regarding females making only 72 percent of what their male counterparts earn?”
Here’s how Romney handled that one:
Important topic and one which I learned a great deal about, particularly as I was serving as governor of my state, because I had the — the chance to pull together a cabinet and all the applicants seemed to be men. And I — and I went to my staff, and I said, “How come all the people for these jobs are — are all men?” They said, well, these are the people that have the qualifications. And I said, “Well, gosh, can’t we — can’t we find some — some women that are also qualified?”
And — and so we — we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women’s groups and said, can you help us find folks? And I brought us whole binders full of – of women. I was proud of the fact that after I staffed my cabinet and my senior staff that the University of New York in Albany did a survey of all 50 states and concluded that mine had more women in senior leadership positions than any other state in America.
Now, one of the reasons I was able to get so many good women to be part of that team was because of our recruiting effort, but number two, because I recognized that if you’re going to have women in the workforce, that sometimes they need to be more flexible. My chief of staff, for instance, had two kids that were still in school. She said, “I can’t be here until 7:00 or 8:00 at night. I need to be able to get home at 5:00 so I can be there for making dinner for my kids and being with them when they get home from school.” So we said, “Fine, let’s have a flexible schedule so you can have hours that work for you.”
We’re going to have to have employers in the new economy, in the economy I’m going to bring to play, that are going to be so anxious to get good workers they’re going to be anxious to hire women.
Before we even assess the substance of Romney’s remarks, we first need to flag the lie. (All too often, with Romney, this is standard operating procedure.) Contrary to what he told the nation Tuesday night, Romney never said to his staff, gosh, let’s get out there and find some qualified women, and, gosh, let’s ask the women’s groups to bring us “whole binders full of women.” The truth is that, after he was elected and before he took the gubernatorial oath, a bipartisan Massachusetts women’s group took the initiative and presented him with lists of qualified applicants. His boast about a Mitt-inspired “recruiting effort” was a fabrication.
He did appoint women to his Cabinet – a decent number, in fact. But he gave them the Cabinet posts he didn’t care about it; the key economic and business development posts went to men. And over the span of his single term as governor, the ratio of women to men declined. And if, by his own (false) telling, he had to gin up “binders full of women” at the outset of his tenure, what does that say about him? The guy had been in the business world for several decades; hadn’t he worked with any women, enough to have a list of his own? Apparently not.
But what’s most important is that he spun the binders anecdote in response to a question about pay inequity. Note that he never answered the question, and no wonder. He didn’t support the Lilly Ledbetter Act – which gives working women more opportunities to sue over pay inequity – when the bill was moving through Congress, and a top aide says that Romney as president would not have signed it. (Ledbetter herself said, after the debate, “If Romney was truly concerned about women in this economy, he’d take a stand against paycheck discrimination.) Romney never mentioned that act in his debate response; nor, of course, did he mention the proposed Paycheck Fairness Act, which would strengthen the federal provisions that are designed to narrow the wage gap. That bill has been blocked by Senate Republicans. Romney has never taken a stance on that one.
However, his debate response was quite revealing. The way he sees it, benevolent employers (like he was) will endeavor to lift women up. No need for pesky laws that would empower women; the free market will take care of their needs. In the bullish economy of his creation, job creators “are going to be so anxious to get good workers they’re going to be anxious to hire women.”
Which is a fascinating concept – given the fact that, in all previous bullish economies, job creators have somehow failed to cure pay inequity or even narrow the systemic wage gap.
There’s no need to frame Romney’s laissez faire response as further proof of a Republican “war on women.” It’s sufficient to note that he dodged a fundamental working women’s concern by boasting about his binders. If you want to understand why Republican candidates traditionally lose among women voters, look no further.
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