Ruth Marcus
Columnist August 29, 2012

Loved the ironing board. Hated the patronizing pander to women.

Ruth Marcus is a columnist and editorial writer for The Post, specializing in American politics and domestic policy. View Archive

The most affecting part of Ann Romney’s convention speech was — no surprise here — the personal testimonial.

Her description of “this boy I met at a high school dance,” tall and nervous, polite to her folks but “really glad when my parents weren’t around.” Early married life in a basement apartment, eating tuna fish and pasta on a fold-down ironing board-turned-dining table.

The 22-year-old Ann, “probably like every other girl who finds herself in a new life far from family and friends, with a new baby and a new husband,” when “it dawned on me that I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into.” Those “long, long, rainy winter afternoons in a house with five boys screaming at once.”

Actually, I would have liked to hear more about Mitt. More granular specifics about his role in all this. Ann Romney touched on them, but in sketchy terms: “I’ve seen him spend countless hours helping others. I’ve seen him drop everything to help a friend in trouble, and been there when late-night calls of panic come from a member of our church whose child has been taken to the hospital.”

Details, please? I ended up feeling as if I knew Ann better than Mitt. But that’s a quibble, not a criticism. My real gripe was the campaign’s strategic decision to deliver two speeches in one: the humanizing, or attempted humanizing, of Mitt Romney, and the flagrant pitch to women.

Ann Romney was perfectly positioned to accomplish the first. But on the second, she is a flawed messenger who delivered a ham-handed message.

On the messenger part, Ann Romney is not the campaign’s best emissary to women for the reasons that Hilary Rosen inartfully expressed several months ago, with her comments about Ann Romney having “never worked a day in her life.”

It’s not her fault, but when Ann Romney talks about the struggles of “working moms who love their jobs but would like to work just a little less to spend more time with the kids,” the working moms the campaign is trying to woo might stop and think, “Gee, she never had that problem.” Tuna fish and pasta notwithstanding, the Romneys never were those “parents who lie awake at night side by side, wondering how they’ll be able to pay the mortgage or make the rent.”

Then there was the unsubtlety of Ann Romney’s we-moms-get-it pander. “You’ll hear the women sighing a little bit more than the men. It’s how it is, isn’t it?” she said. “It’s the moms who have always had to work a little harder to make everything right. It’s the moms of this nation — single, married, widowed — who really hold this country together. We’re the mothers, we’re the wives, we’re the grandmothers, we’re the big sisters, we’re the little sisters, and we are the daughters. You know it’s true, don’t you? . . . You are the ones who always have to do a little more. . . . I’m not sure if men really understand this, but I don’t think there’s a woman in America who really expects her life to be easy. In our own ways, we all know better!”

This is kind of insulting to the guys, don’t you think? Surely there were some dads out there who “know the fastest route to the local emergency room” or spend a long day at work and then “come home at night and help with the book report, just because it has to be done.” Surely some dads also “know what it’s like to sit in that graduation ceremony and wonder how it was that so many long days turned into years that went by so quickly.”

Surely some dads share “that love so deep only a mother can fathom it — the love we have for our children and our children’s children.” Surely a few of them were out there bristling. Maybe even a few of their wives.

I understand that the Romney campaign faces both a gender gap and an opposition that has gone overboard with the “Republican war on women” motif. But is the best way to counter this to turn women into another interest group that requires intensive stroking and assurances about how special they are? It was meant to be flattering. It came off, to me anyway, as objectifying and demeaning.

ruthmarcus@washpost.com