Sunday, April 15, 2012

On Spin and Disconnect

CNN Contributer and sometimes-Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen, who is not, contrary to some Republican claims, an Obama adviser, makes a comment on April 12th that Ann Romney had "never worked a day in her life."

Cue hysteria and disassociation: President Obama, Michelle Obama, Biden, Axelroad, the Democratic National Committee...various different Democratic individuals and groups were quick to criticize Rosen's remarks and affirm their opinion that women should be free to live and work however they wish.

Predictably, the Romney campaign sent out a fundraising appeal calling for donations to send the message to President Obama that "America deserves a president who will bring us together -- not pit us against each other." Representative Michelle Bachmann weighed-in today, arguing "women have borne the brunt of the failed economic policies under Barack Obama," and calling Rosen's comments "shocking and insulting."

Does this all matter? In a way, it doesn't whatsoever: this flap happened at the beginning of what will be a seven month campaign for President, and will be buried over future small-comment stir-ups. It's all a part of the rhetoric of the she-said-he-said, in which supposedly controversial comments are unjustifiably attributed to the Administration or the Challenger.

Conversely, this dust-up represents real disagreements over the place of women in the workforce: in January, Romney said that women receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Family Benefits should be required to work in order to receive the funds. There's a "dignity in work," that poor women should be obliged to realize. NYTimes op-ed contributer Frank Bruni wrote that the Democratic Party must stay out of this kulturkamp and recognize "the full diversity of human experience and [empower] everyone along that spectrum to walk successfully down the path of his or her choosing."

What actually matters is how these conceptions of women and the economy affect policy: the first bill President Obama signed in 2009 was the Lilly-Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which expanded worker's rights to sue based on pay discrimination. Romney stumbled on the question of whether he supports that Act recently. One of Romney's fans, Governor Scott Walker, recently repealed a similar law in Wisconsin.

In the Senate right now, the Violence Against Women Act has encountered gridlock as Democrats attempt to renew the law. There's a question of whether disagreements over additions to the bill are a result of real policy differences or rather are just marginal political ones.

Conceptions of how women participate in the economy, whether from the home or the office, have real policy implications. But the political rhetoric surrounding an ill-articulated comment by a pundit distracts from such real-world consequences.

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