One of the least uplifting debates currently roiling the punditocracy is the grudge match between lobbyist extraordiniare Hilary Rosen and the wife of all-but-certain GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Rosen, who shilled for the generally contemptible Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) during the Napster panic (never forget!), had the temerity to suggest that potential FLOTUS Ann Romney wasn't particularly well-versed in the sorts of monetary pickles that the little people deal with on a regular basis. Here's Rosen on Anderson Cooper's CNN show:
“[Ann Romney] has actually never worked a day in her life...She’s never really dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of the women in this country are facing in terms of how do we feed our kids, how do we send them to school and how do we — why we worry about their future.”
And here's Romney's take-to-the-Twitter response:
“I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys. Believe me, it was hard work.”
The result? An explosion of pundit-based methane that would make Mt. St. Helens look like a baby's burp. What's next, attacking apple pie and Chevrolet?
The only interesting bits (I think) were how quickly the Obama admin worked to distance itself from Rosen's statements. Rosen has been a frequent guest to the White House but has no official connection to the president or his campaign.
Yet here you go:
Within minutes, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina tweeted: “I could not disagree with Hilary Rosen any more strongly. Her comments were wrong and family should be off limits. She should apologize.”
David Axelrod, Obama’s top strategist, tweeted: “Also Disappointed in Hilary Rosen’s comments about Ann Romney. They were inappropriate and offensive.”
And Stephanie Cutter, Obama’s deputy campaign manager, tweeted: “Families must be off limits on campaigns, and i personally believe stay at home moms work harder than most of us do.”
In her defense, Rosen said that she only brought up Mrs. Romney because Gov. Romney says the missus is "his guide to the economic problems facing women." Eventually even Michelle Obama got into the act, playing an Ooka the Wise card by tweeting:
Every mother works hard, and every woman deserves to be respected. –mo
Hmm, that's very solomonic, if by solomonic you mean less useful than a fortune cookie lucky number. (Off topic: Why does Mrs. O feel a need to sign her tweets?)
What can you say about this sort of dialogue, other than that it announces the official start of the stupid season when it comes to the 2012 election?
Here are some things that seem obvious to me:
1. Rosen is largely correct in asserting that Ann Romney has not experienced the privations of, say, a working-class mother (married, divorced, or single) who is raising kids. The Romneys haven't released their most recent taxes, but it's safe to say that being married to the multimillionaire son of a former auto industry CEO, governor, and cabinet official doesn't entail daily tradeoffs between generic canned vegetables and fancy name-brands. The median income for non-immigrant households with kids in the U.S. is about $58,000 (and about $47,000 for immigrant families with kids). The things you juggle with a kid or two when making, say, $30,000 ain't easy.
2. Rosen, while certainly less well-off than Ann Romney, is also certainly better than off than upwards of 99 percent of American mothers (and fathers). She's the former head of the RIAA (a position made all the worse by her dissing the org after carrying its water so handily during its campaign against digital downloads) and worked at Human Rights Watch, a nonprofit that is surely not starving its top people. Rosen now works for the same lobbying firm that former Obama hand Anita Dunn. Who seriously doubts that she is among the 1 Percent? And with great wealth comes a lot less hassles when it comes to raising kids. Doesn't mean there aren't trade-offs, but don't pretend you're one of the great unwashed, either.
3. We all know that moms work hard in the household, and that they generally do more housework than the dads. But do stay at home moms really "work harder than most of us do," as Obama's deputy campaign manager avers? I seriously don't know anybody who still argues that stay at home mothers are sitting around eating bon bons all day. But to suggest that they work harder than you do (especially if you're raising kids and working outside the house) is a reflection on your work ethic, not mine.
4. We all know, too, that spouses are fair game in political campaigns, especially if they join their partners on the hustings. Ann Romney ain't a shrinking violet and while it may not be politic to attack her, it's certainly within the bounds of civil discourse. Goddammit, why didn't Howard Dean's wife, herself a doctor who showed no interest in campaigning, set a precedent for political spouses? What a better world that would be.
5. It's well past time that we pretend that either political party really gives a rat's ass about the welfare of kids, except insofar as they figure this policy or that will move some votes in their direction. Here's a primer on how the state still screws over women, including the subset that are mothers. Not surprisingly, the litany is not very different than the way the state screws over men, including the subset that are fathers. Parents of either gender have particular concerns and insights into what may or may not make their lives easier when it come to raising their kids. It's important to listen to those concerns. But it's also important not to pretend that the world should be child-proofed simply because I decided to have kids. Simply because I chose to have two kids (hi guys!) doesn't mean I (or you) should be elevated to special status that allows me to cost my decisions onto you. Read more about that here.