Milking criticism further isn’t a good plan for Ann Romney

Melinda Henneberger
Reporter April 17, 2012

Usually, the term “faux outrage” loosely translates from the French into “someone else’s outrage, which I am not acknowledging as in any way valid on account of I don’t want to.”

But in a political system in which attacks are so reliably monetized, Ann Romney couldn’t help woohooing about how profitably she’d been disrespected by Democratic consultant Hilary Rosen, who commented on cable news that Romney had “actually never worked a day in her life.”

Melinda Henneberger has been writing about politics and culture for the Washington Post since 2011. View Archive

Ca-ching, the candidate’s wife exulted.

At a fundraiser in Palm Beach, Fla., over the weekend, Romney not only showed no hint of outrage, faux or otherwise, but was really kind of giddy. “It was my early birthday present for someone to be critical of me as a mother,” reporters overheard her telling supporters. “And that was really a defining moment, and I loved it.’’

Now, when I wrote last week that the Romneys owed Rosen a thank-you note, I didn’t expect them to agree while wearing a microphone. But as a spouse unfairly maligned, a mom denied her due, what was not to love? And no one can say her delight was inauthentic.

The woman whose job Ann Romney is running for has been attacked, too, of course, for everything from the size of her “posterior” to her aggressive agenda of veggie-pushing.

Yet, mostly, Michelle Obama has passed on the perquisites of victimhood. Perhaps because, as she told Gayle King the one time I do remember her giving voice to some umbrage: “I guess it’s more interesting to imagine this conflicted situation here and a strong woman. But that’s been an image that people have tried to paint of me since the day Barack announced. That I’m some angry black woman.”

She hasn’t made that mistake again. And Ann Romney wasn’t so foolish as to pretend to have been wounded by Rosen’s remarks, either; that’s why God made surrogates, which the campaign sent out to do so in her stead, on behalf of mothers everywhere.

It doesn’t seem to have hurt her any to have been caught celebrating Rosen’s remarks in semi-private. It probably won’t, either, because after President Obama and half of his campaign team rushed to say spouses should be off limits, they’re not about to double back and make a big deal of it.

But milking it any further is not a good plan for the Romneys, either — and I hope they won’t try to spin comedian (and self-funded Green Party presidential candidate) Roseanne Barr’s rude and baseless speculation about how much help Ann Romney had while raising her five sons as anything other than a bid for attention.

(“Mrs. Mitt Romney claims to have worked her toned a-- off, raising five Romney males all on her own, as privileged wives often do,” Barr wrote in the Daily Beast. “But, no, Ann, I call bull---- on your Big Mama story, girlfriend.” Okay, and I call what she said on that column, though it’s not worth getting excited over.)

The “real housewives” of the campaign trail do have a hard and often thankless job and a schedule that involves plenty of actual work. Yet politics is also enough like reality TV that it is infinitely better to be the aggrieved party — the housewife having wine tossed in her face for the umpteenth time — than the one who’s doing the tossing.

Then you pat it dry, without looking either too offended or too pleased and get right back to selling the candidate.

Melinda Henneberger is a Washington Post political writer and anchors the paper’s She the People blog. Follow her on Twitter at @MelindaDC.

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