When did Democrats decide that "cringe and grovel" is a winning political strategy?
I'm referring, of course, to the latest ginned-up Republican hissy-fit about mean Hilary Rosen criticizing Ann Romney's defense of her husband Willard's anti-woman, anti-worker policies. Rosen is a Democratic commentator for CNN.
Rosen's comments came on Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees on 04/11/2012. The dialogue here was among Cooper, Rosen, and hardcore rightwinger Eric Erickson of Redstate.com:
COOPER: Hilary, to the Romney campaign's point though, they're focusing on the economy and that's what women overwhelming say they really care about right now in poll after poll.
Whether it's a typical pattern or not, women are seeing jobs come back much more slowly than men are. Is there anything really wrong then with reaching out to women on an issue that they care about, on the economy?
HILARY ROSEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first, can we just get rid of this word war on women. The Obama campaign does not use it. President Obama does not use it. This is something that the Republicans are accusing people of using, but they're actually the one spreading it.
With respect to economic issues, I think actually that Mitt Romney is right, that ultimately women care more about the economic well-being of their families and the like. But there's -- but he doesn't connect on that issue either.
What you have is Mitt Romney running around the country saying, well, you know, my wife tells me that what women really care about are economic issues. And when I listen to my wife, that's what I'm hearing.
Guess what, his wife has actually never worked a day in her life. She's never really dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of the women in this country are facing in terms of how do we feed our kids, how do we send them to school and how do we -- why do we worry about their future?
So I think it's -- yes, it's about these positions and, yes, I think there will be a war of words about the positions, but there's something much more fundamental about Mitt Romney. He seems so old- fashioned when it comes to women.
And I think that comes across and I think that that's going to hurt him over the long term. He just doesn't really see us as equal.
COOPER: Erick, I want you to be able to respond to that.
ERICKSON: Well, I'm still hung up on the Democrats haven't been using the war on women because I've been playing clips of Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Nancy Pelosi and others using the phrase war on women. I'm pretty sure.
ROSEN: No, no, no.
ERICKSON: I think it's a Democratic talking point. I think the Democrats have used it. I think their political mouthpieces from MSNBC to think progress and elsewhere have used it. It's clear that's what the Democrats want to talk about, this war on women.
I do think Mitt Romney is going to have problems relating to women. He is going to have problems relating to men, but those problems are going to be about him being able to relate to people in general.
Frankly, if the economy goes down, I don't really think it's going to matter. More and more we're seeing small businesses say they don't even want to hire headed into next year, but that's a problem not for Mitt Romney, but for Barack Obama. [my emphasis]
Now, I think Rosen's performance here is pretty feckless. Democratic commentators have been talking about the Republicans' "war on women" and with good reason. One Republican talking point on it is, oh, no, the Democrats are being really naughty to use the phrase "war on women". Here she's making a silly attempt to duck it rather than emphasize that, yes, the Republicans are waging a political war on women and giving examples of it.
Her comment that the Republicans pulled out that Ann Romney "has actually never worked a day in her life" was clearly in the context of the Romneys being out of touch with the needs of ordinary people and with women's real economic situation in particular. It's notable that a rigid partisan like Erickson didn't pick up on the comment as "offensive", or zero in on it at all. Not that Erickson's reaction means all that much; he was just repeating variations of his talking point about how naughty it was for the Dems to be saying "war on women".
Rosen's comment was clutzy, just like her silly comma-dancing over the "war on women" phrase was clutzy. I know I'm normally careful to specify women working outside the home, or women in the work force, when I'm talking about that subject. If we say someone is "unemployed", no one except maybe some mad comma-dancer at FOX News takes that as meaning that the person no longer has any family responsibilities or things to take care of in their lives. It means they are not in the work force as defined by the Labor Department's employment statistics. Ann Romney has never had to work under the kind of economic pressures that ordinary wives and mothers have to or something along those lines would have been preferable.
But Democrats up to and including President Obama falling for the Republican hissy-fit over it and rushing to denounce her comment is just sad. This is one aspect of Democratic behavior that I find it difficult to even imagine how it's anything other than a strange psychological habit they somehow got into over the years. It's an example of George Lakoff's "don't think of an elephant" point about framing: if you tell someone, "don't think of an elephant", they have to think of an elephant to process your sentence. His point for Democrats is that they shouldn't accept Republican framing when responding to Republican attacks.
But they do it all the time. Here the seemingly obvious thing for Dems to have said when confronted with Rosen's quote would be to say something like, "Well, you'll have to ask Hilary Rosen what she meant. But there is a Republican war on women because of ... (opposition to equal pay laws, denying women health coverage and birth control, cutbacks on education and childcare and other programs for children, etc.)" Instead, by explicitly distancing themselves from her comment, they reinforce the idea that she somehow speaks for them and that Democrats have something to apologize for when it comes to women's issues.
This all takes place in the context of a Republican "culture war" trope going back to the rise to prominence of the women's movement in the late 1960s and especially the 1970s. Anti-feminists adopted a whiny-white-people position of saying that all these feminists looking down on working mothers in "traditional families". In reality, the Christian Right advocates of the so-called "traditional family" explicitly and implicitly encourage the attitude that there is something wrong with women who are not full-time mothers and homemakers, although politicians who actually want to get female votes generally tip-toe around the issue. By their panicky reaction to this hissy fit is a huge reminder of how vulnerable President Obama could be around election time. They are chronic suckers for this kind of thing. I really don't get it.
Joan Walsh, who I worry sometimes is a bit skittish when it comes to "culture war" issues, didn't seem the least bit skittish in Ann Romney should apologize!Salon 04/12/2012, criticizing the Democrats for being such suckers for a Republican attack like this. Noting that if the Democrats played the hissy-fit game like the Republicans, they would be demanding that Ann Romney apologize to Rosen for responding to Rosen's comment!
No, Ann Romney doesn't need to apologize – but in a grown-up world, Hilary Rosen wouldn’t have had to either. The point Rosen was making was, and is, valid: Mitt Romney repeatedly refers to his wife, Ann, in lordly terms, "reporting" to him what matters to women. Reporting to him, like she’s an employee, or maybe a translator. It’s valid to suggest that he ought to talk about what women believe from his own experiences, or what he learns from women colleagues, co-workers, campaign staff. He should stop referring to his wife'’s “reports” about women’s issues, sounding like Thurston Howell III.
And the fact is, Ann Romney’s experiences are not the average woman’s. She is a woman of great privilege. Most mothers don’t have the "choice" to stay home full time with their kids; they need a paycheck. Meanwhile, her husband supports the Paul Ryan budget, which cuts nutrition programs for pregnant women and new moms and their kids. It cuts Medicaid for poor women and children. It slashes food stamp funding, when women and children make up two-thirds of the people who get food stamps. He wants to get rid of Planned Parenthood, which provides not just contraception but breast cancer and cervical cancer screenings for millions of low-income women.
In blasting the Obama campaign for the remarks of a Democrat unrelated to his campaign, Concerned Women for America called motherhood "the most important job there is." Except when poor women do it, that is. Republicans crusaded to kill Aid to Families With Dependent Children (supported eventually by Bill Clinton and other Democrats) to make sure that poor women joined the workforce. Motherhood is "the most important job there is" unless your children are poor. What a bunch of hypocrites. [my emphasis]