The incredibly ill-advised comment by Democratic Party operative
Hilary Rosen about Ann Romney, i.e., that Mrs. Romney has never worked,
is one of those rare political blunders that will not soon disappear.
Normally, these gaffes fade from public consciousness as a political
campaign turns to other issues, but the reason that the Rosen gaffe will not
fade is that the Democrats have decided to make women's issues a
centerpiece of their national campaign this year, and every time they try
a different tack on this theme, voters will be reminded of the attack on
Why is this so? First of all, the Rosen comment was designed to diminish
Mitt Romney's wife as a political asset. Democratic strategists had good
reason to fear Ann Romney's ability to assist her husband in his quest for
the presidency. She is actually a remarkable woman who has many of the
communication skills her husband has not yet demonstrated. But Ann
Romney was not yet well-known to most Americans. A partner in what is
obviously a very successful long-term marriage, mother of five sons, and a
superb political campaigner for her husband, she is also a long-term
cancer survivor and lives with multiple sclerosis. The only truly smart
strategy by Democrats was to ignore Mrs. Romney as best they could, but
certainly not to attack her.
Now the whole country has been introduced to Mrs. Romney in a very
positive way. Hilary Rosen, having blundered so badly, furthermore, could
not stop, and continued her attack, trying to say that Mrs. Romney does not
understand the concerns and problems of women who work. Ann Romney's
life story, now known by virtually every voter, makes that claim seem
ridiculous. Finally, Ms. Rosen made a weak apology, and said, "Let's talk
instead about the substance of this issue." But what is the substance of the
issue? The real substance is that the Democratic campaign strategists had
intended to assert that Mitt Romney and the Republican Party were
conducting a "war on women," and thus aggravate a gender gap in the
Democratic spokespersons, from President Obama, Mrs. Obama, the DNC,
the national campaign chair, et al, on down, have now thrown Ms. Rosen
"under the bus," and they will now no doubt avoid attacking Ann Romney,
but they cannot continue their strategy of raising the specter of the "war on
women" without automatically reminding everyone of their attack on women
who stay at home and raise their children. Not only is this now in the
national political consciousness, the Republicans, as they have already
demonstrated, will skillfully remind voters of it.
The "war on women" was a cynical strategy to begin with, but it was not
without a certain cunning, and it might have fit the promotion of the overall
Democratic pro-choice on abortion issue and other feminist issues. To be
fair, there are several valid issues concerning working women and mothers
who also work. Mr. Romney and the Republicans, with polls showing them
trailing among women voters, might have been kept on the defensive, and
been forced to spend valuable campaign time and resources trying to woo
independent and centrist women voters to their side in November.
Now the roles have been reversed. Ann Romney has become indelibly a
sympathetic and appealing political figure, not only as a potential first lady ,
but as an eloquent spokesperson for a very large segment of women voters
in America (including perhaps many uncommitted women voters who might
have previously been inclined to vote for Mr. Obama, and not her husband.)
If the Romney campaign adds to this the argument that the Obama
administration policies are the real reason women workers, wives and
mothers are suffering in the current economy, the true "war on women"
could be seen to be being waged by liberals and Democrats, and not Republicans
who are trying to "raise all boats" by adopting policies that will turn a chronically
sour economy around.
Years from now, when various campaign blunders in U.S. history will be
discussed by political scientists and historians, the attack on Ann Romney
and "the war on women" strategy, I suspect, will be cited as one of the classic
and most egregious miscalculations of them all.
Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman
All rights reserved.