Motherhood and Politics

April 13, 2012 | By | 1 Reply More

I don’t have a lot to say about this kerfluffle over the remarks of someone who, as it turns out, is not actually working for Obama regarding Ann Romney never having worked a day in her life.  This kind of hyperbole ought to be treated as it deserves—ignored.

But we live in an age when the least thing can become a huge political Thing, so ignoring idiocy is not an option.

I remember back in the 1990s a brief flap over Robert Reich.  I’m not certain but I believe it was Rush Limbaugh who started it by lampooning the Clinton Administration’s Secretary of Labor for “never having had a real job in his life.”  Meaning that he had gone from graduation into politics with no intervening time served as, at a guess, a fast-food cook or carwasher or checker at a WalMart.  Whatever might qualify as “real” or as a “job” in this formulation.  In any event, it was an absurd criticism that overlooked what had been a long career in law and as a teacher before Clinton appointed him.  It’s intent was to discredit him, of course, which was the intent of the comments aimed at Mrs. Romney by asserting that she has no idea what a working mother has to go through.

image by NewPhotoservice at Dreamstime (with permission)

A different formulation of the charge might carry more weight, but would garner less attention.   It is true being a mother has little to do with what we regard as “gainful employment” in this country: employees have laws which would prevent the kinds of hours worked (all of them, on call, every day including weekends and holidays) for the level of wages paid (none to speak of) mothers endure.

Hilary Rosen raised a storm over remarks aimed at making Mrs. Romney appear out of touch with working mothers.  A more pointed criticism might be that Mrs. Romney does not have any experience like that of many women who must enter employment in order to support themselves and their families, that a woman who can afford nannies (whether she actually made use of any is beside the point—the fact is she had that option, which most women do not) can’t know what working mothers must go through.

But that’s a nuanced critique and we aren’t used to that, apparently.  Soundbite, twitter tweets, that’s what people are used to, encapsulate your charge in a 144 characters or less, if we have to think about it more than thirty seconds, boredom takes over and the audience is lost.

Unfortunately, the chief victims then are truth and reality.

So the president gets dragged into it for damage control and the issue becomes a campaign issue.

Which might not be such a bad thing.  We could stand to have a renewed conversation about all this, what with so many related issues being on the table, given the last year of legislation aimed at “modifying” women’s services and rights.  Whether they intended it this way or not, the GOP has become saddled with the appearance of waging culture wars against women, the most recent act being Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin’s repeal of that state’s equal pay law.  Romney is the presumptive nominee for head of that party and one of the things he’s going to have to do if figure out where he stands on these matters and then try to convince the country that he and his party are not anti-woman.

Yes, that’s hyperbolic, but not by much.  This is where the culture wars have brought us—one part of society trying to tell the other part what it ought to be doing and apparently prepared to enact legislation to force the issue.  Ms. Rosen’s remarks, ill-aimed as they were, point up a major policy problem facing the GOP and the country as a whole, which is the matter of inequality.

That’s become a catch-all phrase these days, but that doesn’t mean it lacks importance.  The fact is that money and position pertain directly to questions of relevance in matters of representation.  Ann Romney becomes in this a symbol, which is an unfortunate but inevitable by-product of our politics, and it is legitimate to ask if she can speak to women’s concerns among those well below her level of available resource and degree of life experience.

The problem with all politics, left, right, or center, is that in general it’s all too general.  Which is why Ms. Rosen’s remarks, no matter how well-intentioned or even statistically based on economic disparities, fail to hit the mark.  She can’t know Ann Romney’s life experience and how it has equipped her to empathize with other women.  Just as Ann Romney, viewing life through the lens of party politics, may be unable to empathize with women the GOP has been trying very hard to pretend are irrelevant.

Like with Robert Reich’s critics, it all comes down to what you mean by “real” and “work.”  And that’s both personal and relative. Isn’t it?

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Category: American Culture, Culture, Current Events, Economy, ignorance, income disparity, Labor and Working Conditions, Media, Politics, Quality of Life

About the Author ()

Mark is a writer and musician living in the St. Louis area. He hit puberty at the peak of the Sixties and came of age just as it was all coming to a close with the end of the Vietnam War. He was annoyed when bellbottoms went out of style, but he got over it.

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  1. Tim Hogan says:

    Mark, the issue is whether any Republican can muster up enough courage to take on the inequalities between the treatment of men versus women in our society. I say not.

    What with banning birth control, invading vaginas, scoffing at pay differences and such Republicans have nothing to talk about with women until one person, falsely identified as an Obama staffer, makes a stupid remark. Suddenly the fallacy of composition can be shoutingly and snarkily wielded by such as Dana Loesch on Fox in St. Louis and her yapping ilk to declare a “Democratic War on Mothers.”

    Geez, could there ever be a real substantive conversation about inequality in America? Not with these guys because when you don’t see any problem with the status quo, there’s nothing to talk about.

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