In wake of Rosen comments, both sides show lack of respect for women voters


Hilary Rosen on July 20, 2001. (DENNIS COOK/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

In one corner, we have the challenger: Mitt Romney’s campaign, which went on the offensive Thursday over comments made by Hilary Rosen, a Democratic political strategist, pundit and former lobbyist, about Romney’s wife, Ann. Rosen said Ann Romney has “never worked a day in her life” and “never really dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of the women in this country are facing.”

In the other corner are the president’s advisers who, enjoying Obama’s substantial lead among women voters, were quick to protect their advantage, with everyone from the president to the First Lady to Obama’s actual advisers either professing their support for all mothers or distancing themselves from Rosen’s comments. “I could not disagree with Hilary Rosen any more strongly,” tweeted Obama campaign manager Jim Messina. “Also disappointed in Hilary Rosen's comments about Ann Romney,” tweeted adviser David Axelrod. “They were inappropriate and offensive.”


Ann Romney, wife of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney on January 20, 2012. (JIM YOUNG/REUTERS)

The whole discussion is not just a throwback—it’s insulting to women voters. Clearly, Rosen was artless in her comments about what defines work—anyone who has ever been a mother knows what an incredibly demanding job it is. And criticizing a candidate’s wife—whether one feels it’s fair game or not—is bound to draw plenty of ire.

But the GOP’s move to seize on the comment to help its case with women—and the Democrats’ effort to shore up its lead position with female voters—shows that both parties are acting as if women’s votes are swayed because of what is said on Twitter or cable talk shows. Instead of highlighting how their policy positions help women make real choices about whether to work outside the home or within it, they’re each scrambling to position themselves against the comments of one person.

Why not instead take the opportunity to highlight your policies on improving child care options, so that women can make better choices? Or how about talking about what efforts you’re making to improve maternity leave policies? Or, for those women who choose to stay home with their children for an extended number of years, why not showcase what you’re doing to increase job training efforts for them when they’re ready to re-enter the so-called workforce?

I agree, as Michelle Obama tweeted, that “every mother works hard, and every woman deserves to be respected.” But so does every voter. Let’s stop reacting as if women decide who they’re going to vote for based on what the pundits and the spokespeople say. Instead, let’s lead with the issues, and help women understand each campaign’s positions on the policies that most impact them.

Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.

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