Last week, when Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen said that Ann Romney had never worked a day in her life, Republicans thought they had finally stumbled upon an issue they could exploit to counter the accusation that they are waging a war on women—and to do something about that scary 20-point gender gap they refuse to believe is real. By insisting that Rosen was attacking mothers, Republicans could seize this shiny object to declare that it is Democrats, not Republicans, who do not value women and the unpaid work they do. The choice to stay home with one's children is the most dignified choice a woman can make, and how dare the Democrats insist otherwise.
Cue Mitt Romney in January of this year:
Even if you have a child 2 years of age, you need to go to work [...] And people said, "Well that's heartless." And I said, "No, no, I'm willing to spend more giving day care to allow those parents to go back to work. It'll cost the state more providing that day care, but I want the individuals to have the dignity of work."Mitt's statement perfectly articulates what the Republican Party has always believed. Being a mother isn't work; it is only through employment outside the home that a mother achieves "dignity." And women who don't have the convenience of their husbands' stock portfolio don't deserve to have a choice to stay home with their children. They "need to go to work." Rich women who stay home work hard. Poor women who do are lazy. And undignified.
The contradiction of Mitt's statement in January and the Republicans' sudden pretend outrage that anyone would suggest raising children isn't work demonstrates why this is a destined-to-fail plan—and not just because the context of Rosen's comments make clear that she wasn't attacking stay-at-home mothers, but rather, the hilarious assertion that Ann Romney has half a clue about the economic struggles most women in this country face.
No, the real failure of this new strategy to divert attention away from the Republicans' assault on women is that it's Republicans who have long waged war against mothers. Pick any policy that better enables women to spend more time with their children or to make the choice Ann Romney did, not to work at all, and Republicans are 100 percent against it. Paid family leave laws so working mothers can spend time with their new infants? Against it. Housing and nutritional assistance so women can forgo employment to stay home with their children? Not only are Republicans against that, but in several states, Republicans have pushed for, and even enacted, legislation requiring those women to submit to drug tests. Because obviously any woman who wants to make the choice to stay home with her children must be a drug addict. Unless her name is Ann Romney.
And of course we all know full well how Republicans feel about family planning. Women who plan to have children when their financial situation better enables them to make the suddenly respectable choice to forgo employment are sluts.
We have the patron saint of the Republican Party, Ronald Reagan, to thank for the debunked stereotype of the lazy welfare queen cruising around in a Cadillac. Such women are to be mocked, disrespected, blamed and shamed. Go to work. Get some dignity. One Cadillac makes you a welfare queen; two makes you Ann Romney.
That Republicans think they've discovered a winning issue is proof of just how clueless they are about why American women are mad as hell at them. If they want to have a debate about which party respects women's choices—all choices, not just the "choice" to marry well—bring it on. Let's review the decades of assault on low- and middle-income women who have wanted to make the same choice Ann Romney did—the one Republicans now demand we respect—but have been told by Republicans like Mitt Romney that their work as mothers doesn't count and that they "need to go to work."
Yeah, let's have that fight. And in November, we'll see who wins.