I was waiting to see who would show up at tonight’s town hall at Hofstra University. Would it be the suddenly “Moderate Mitt” of the last presidential debate? Or would it be “Extreme Mitt,” the self-described “severely conservative” governor we’d come to know during the endless debates of the primary?
The suspense was practically killing me.
But lucky for us gals, Romney made a calculated political decision and returned as “Moderate Mitt.” I guess it worked so well for him at the last debate he decided, why pander to those right-wing conservatives when what I really need is the women’s vote? (Single moms need not apply. Romney made that explicit.)
I have to say Romney was so reasonable he almost had me fooled into thinking he supports equal pay, keeping the government out of birth control, having employers happily pay for insurance that covers contraception, and providing flexible schedules for us working moms who are so stressed out. And with no cut in pay.
Because I live in Los Angeles, I was also hoping the savior of the auto industry -- oh, wait, no, that was President Obama! who resurrected the industry, Romney wanted to let GM and Chrysler go bankrupt -- would offer to pay for my gas. Which is a big economic drag for us moms in California, because we have to drive so much. But the man who vows to drill on every coast as his energy policy didn’t offer.
“Moderate Mitt" was so good that he almost sounded like an advocate for women’s interests. Although he did repeat his vow to defund Planned Parenthood. But then he had to go and utter the unforgettable phrase: "binders full of women."
And the illusion went poof.
Romney used the phrase when he was bragging about his record hiring women when he was Massachusetts governor. To hear Romney tell it, he was practically the male Gloria Steinem. When his staff gave him a stack of applications for cabinet positions, he noticed all the applicants were men. So he said: “Well, gosh, can’t we -- can’t we find some -- some women that are also qualified?” Which they did, inevitably leading to the aforementioned “binders full of women.” Which is not to be confused with “binders full of Mormons,” or “binders full of Latinas."
Alas, the story about Romney desperately seeking women turned out to be a shade untrue. In a conference call with reporters the morning after the debate, Jesse Mermel of MassGAP, a nonpartisan project founded in 2002 to increase the number of women in prominent positions in the governor's office, corrected Romney's tale. It was the women's group that approached Romney to bring in more women and that crafted the plan to identify them--not the other way around.
Here's what Mermel said:
To be clear, Romney didn’t request those resumes. Our group approached the Romney transition team with the resumes or so called binders full of women. Why did Mitt Romney need binders full of women to find qualified candidates? Why didn’t his staff already have women in mind for cabinet positions? Were there no women in his 25 years of professional experience that he had worked with and thought was qualified? At the time Romney paid lip service to the public about hiring more women in senior positions and treated it like a quota.
But like with so many other things with Mitt Romney, the facts didn’t match the rhetoric. Facts are facts, and despite what Governor Romney claimed in the debate last night, there were fewer women in senior administration positions during his term than the Governors who came before and after him.
The group also released this statement:
Prior to the 2002 gubernatorial election, MassGAP approached the campaigns of candidates Shannon O’Brien and Mitt Romney and asked them both to commit to: (1).“Make best efforts” to ensure that the number of women in appointed state positions is proportionate to the population of women in Massachusetts; (2). Select a transition team whose composition is proportionate to the women in the Commonwealth; and (3). Meet with MassGAP representatives regularly during the appointments process. Both campaigns made a commitment to this process.
There's more. Despite Romney's proud claim that he hired more women to top positions than any other governor, his record kind of disintegrated later in his term.
Prior to the 2002 election, women comprised approximately 30 percent of appointed senior-level positions in Massachusetts government. By 2004, 42 percent of the new appointments made by the Romney administration were women. Subsequently, however, from 2004-2006 the percentage of newly-appointed women in these senior appointed positions dropped to 25 percent.
Still, one of the early clues in the debate about Romney's real position on women’s rights came during this question by a young woman about equal pay:
In what new ways to you intend to rectify the inequalities in the workplace, specifically regarding females making only 72 percent of what their male counterparts earn?
Romney dodged the question, except to suggest that with his fantastic plan to create zillions of new jobs, employers would be “anxious” to hire women. In other words, there’d be so many jobs they’d be forced to employ women. And the pay gap would magically vanish because employers are just that nice. He did acknowledge that working moms have it tough, and that he allowed one of his staffers to leave at five every night so she could go home and cook dinner for her kids. How sweet!
Strangely, Romney didn’t say a word about the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which allows women to sue if they’ve suffered pay discrimination and was a big issue for Romney last spring when he couldn’t get his position on it straight.
There was a reason Romney was so vague. It turns out he didn't support it.
Moderator Candy Crowley, sensing possible fireworks here, told Obama to respond:
“I just want to point out that when Governor Romney's campaign was asked about the Lilly Ledbetter bill, whether he supported it? He said, "I'll get back to you." And that's not the kind of advocacy that women need in any economy.”
Obama then used the opening to hammer home the stark differences between he and Romney on health care and women’s access to birth control:
You know a major difference in this campaign is that Governor Romney feels comfortable having politicians in Washington decide the health care choices that women are making.
I think that's a mistake. In my health care bill, I said insurance companies need to provide contraceptive coverage to everybody who is insured. Because this is not just a -- a health issue, it's an economic issue for women. It makes a difference. This is money out of that family's pocket. Governor Romney not only opposed it, he suggested that in fact employers should be able to make the decision as to whether or not a woman gets contraception through her insurance coverage.”
At least women know who the real Mitt Romney is now.
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