This was the town hall style debate, which means the candidates took questions from an audience full of allegedly undecided voters. One thing I noticed partway through was that when Mitt Romney would get a question from a woman, he would start his answer with this exaggerated "thaaaaank you" that just came off as really smarmy and patronizing to me. (He even did it to moderator Candy Crowley once or twice.) I know it's a small thing, but it seemed as if he was going into 'dad mode' and congratulating one of his grandkids for drawing him an ugly picture or something, like 'wow, you're a lady and you just asked me a question about politics, good for you!' The tone of it also reminded me of his super creepy "I'm Mitt Romney and I approved this message" voiceover from his recent "Dear Daughter" ad, which is probably part of the reason it struck me in such a negative way.
While we're on the subject of tone and style, let's have a quick sidebar about the way that Romney treated debate moderator Candy Crowley. Throughout the evening he continually interrupted her, talked over her, ignored her, and called into question her ability to keep the time and manage the debate correctly. Here's a typical exchange:
MS. CROWLEY: Mr. President, I got to — I got to move you along. And the next a question is for you —
MR. ROMNEY: No, he — he gets the first — he actually got — he actually got the first question. So I get the last question — last answer on that one.
MS. CROWLEY: If — actually, in the follow-up. It doesn't quite work like that.
MR. ROMNEY: Actually —
MS. CROWLEY: But I'm going to give you a chance here. (Laughter.) I promise you I'm going to. And the next question is for you, so if you want to, you know, continue on, but I don't want to leave all these guys sitting here and — because —
MR. ROMNEY: Candy, Candy, Candy, I don't have a policy of — of stopping wind jobs in Iowa and that — they're not phantom jobs. They're real jobs.
MS. CROWLEY: OK.
MR. ROMNEY: I appreciate wind jobs in Iowa and across our country. I appreciate the jobs in coal and oil and gas. I'm going to make sure —
MS. CROWLEY: So you're — OK. Thank you, Governor.
MR. ROMNEY: — that taking advantage of our energy resources will bring back manufacturing to America. We're going to get through a very aggressive energy policy, 3.5 million more jobs in this country. It's critical to our future.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Candy, it's OK.
MS. CROWLEY: We're going to move you along to taxes —
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I'm used — I'm used to being interrupted.
[Transcript via NPR. You can also find audio at that link, or video here.]
It's hard to sell yourself as a candidate who respects women when you can't even manage to show any respect to the one woman who is sharing the stage with you.
Anyway, on to substance. One of the questions that the candidates got from a woman in the audience was about inequality in the workplace and the fact that women are still paid less for doing the same jobs as men. I thought that after years of dodging the question, Romney might actually finally tell the women of America where he stands on the question of equal pay. I was mistaken.
Q: In what new ways do you intend to rectify the inequalities in the workplace, specifically regarding females making only 72 percent of what their male counterparts earn?Okay. Anyone who has been anywhere on the internet in the last couple of days already knows that "binders full of women" has become a meme and a tumblr and a hashtag and all of that.
MS. CROWLEY: Governor Romney, pay equity for women.
MR. ROMNEY: Thank you. And — important topic and one which I learned a great deal about, particularly as I was serving as governor of my state, because I had the — the chance to pull together a Cabinet and all the applicants seemed to be men. And I — and I went to my staff, and I said, how come all the people for these jobs are — are all men?
They said, well, these are the people that have the qualifications. And I said, well, gosh, can't we — can't we find some — some women that are also qualified?
And — and so we — we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women's groups and said, can you help us find folks? And I brought us whole binders full of — of women. I was proud of the fact that after I staffed my cabinet and my senior staff that the University of New York in Albany did a survey of all 50 states and concluded that mine had more women in senior leadership positions than any other state in America.
But let's not let the fact that this comment was a joke distract us from the fact that it was also a lie. There was a binder full of women, but Mittens didn't ask for it - it was put together by a bipartisan group of women call MassGAP that was formed prior to the election and given to Romney when he took office. The Phoenix, which reported on the binder lie as soon as it came out of Romney's mouth, also dug into the question of exactly when and where these women worked when they moved from the binder to the cabinet:
First of all, according to MassGAP and MWPC, Romney did appoint 14 women out of his first 33 senior-level appointments, which is a reasonably impressive 42 percent. However, as I have reported before, those were almost all to head departments and agencies that he didn't care about -- and in some cases, that he quite specifically wanted to not really do anything. None of the senior positions Romney cared about -- budget, business development, etc. -- went to women.It says a lot. Notice that although the question was about equal pay, he never mentions whether all of those many many many women that he hired when he was governor actually got equal pay, does he? And then there's the rest of his answer:
Secondly, a UMass-Boston study found that the percentage of senior-level appointed positions held by women actually declined throughout the Romney administration, from 30.0% prior to his taking office, to 29.7% in July 2004, to 27.6% near the end of his term in November 2006. (It then began rapidly rising when Deval Patrick took office.)
Third, note that in Romney's story as he tells it, this man who had led and consulted for businesses for 25 years didn't know any qualified women, or know where to find any qualified women. So what does that say?
Now, one of the reasons I was able to get so many good women to be part of that team was because of our recruiting effort, but number two, because I recognized that if you're going to have women in the workforce, that sometimes they need to be more flexible. My chief of staff, for instance, had two kids that were still in school. She said, I can't be here until 7:00 or 8:00 at night. I need to be able to get home at 5:00 so I can be there for — making dinner for my kids and being with them when they get home from school. So we said, fine, let's have a flexible schedule so you can have hours that work for you.
You know what else would have been great? If there was anything in this answer about actual policy. This has been a fairly standard tactic for the Romney campaign, especially when questions about women's issues come up - respond to policy questions with personal anecdotes. My personal favorite is Ann Romney's talking point about how we can just trust her when she says that Mitt will stand up for women because she knows what a great guy he is. Even if Mitt Romney had hired more women than any governor ever in the history of the United States of America and had given them the most flexible work schedules ever designed...how does that help me? How does that ensure that all of the women who don't work for Mitt Romney will have fair treatment and the tools to fight discrimination in the workplace? It doesn't. It sounds nice and it's designed to give the impression that Mittens cares about working women, but the bottom line is that he doesn't actually respect us enough to even answer a direct question about whether he thinks we deserve equal pay for equal work.
But wait! There's more:
We're going to have to have employers in the new economy, in the economy I'm going to bring to play, that are going to be so anxious to get good workers they're going to be anxious to hire women. In the — in the last four years, women have lost 580,000 jobs. That's the net of what's happened in the last four years. We're still down 580,000 jobs. I mentioned 3 1/2 million women more now in poverty than four years ago.Well, there you have it. Mitt Romney will address the problems that women face in the workplace by "supporting" us in a vague, general, non-specific and policy-free way, and by making the economy so incredibly super duper strong that employers will even want to hire women! And these employers will be so jazzed about how strong, strong, and strong the economy is that they'll even be willing to "adapt" to the flexible work schedules that all women everywhere apparently need to give them the "opportunity" to get home in time to cook dinner. That sounds awesome. I'm making lasagna tonight if anyone wants to come over.
What we can do to help young women and women of all ages is to have a strong economy, so strong that employers are looking to find good employees and bringing them into their workforce and adapting to a — a flexible work schedule that gives women the opportunities that — that they would otherwise not be able to — to afford.
This is what I've done, it's what I look forward to doing, and I know what it takes to make an economy work.
And I know what a working economy looks like. And an economy with 7.8 percent unemployment is not a real strong economy. An economy that — that — that has 23 million people looking for work is not a strong economy. An economy with — with 50 percent of kids graduating from college that can't find a job, or a college-level job — that's not what we have to have.
MS. CROWLEY: Governor —
MR. ROMNEY: I'm going to help women in America get — get good work by getting a stronger economy and by supporting women in the workforce.
So, let's review. The question was about what each candidate will do to address the issue of inequality in the workplace, and specifically the problem of women not earning equal pay for equal work. Here are the things that Mitt Romney's answer did NOT do:
- Address the problem of inequality in the workplace as it relates to the issue of equal pay
- Clarify Romney's position on the issue of equal pay so that we could at least understand whether he even believes that it exists or is a bad thing
- Use the phrase "equal pay" even once
- Offer any specific policy solutions for the problem of equal pay, or even a standard Republican talking point about how we shouldn't use government to solve this problem because the job market will regulate itself blah blah blah whatever
- Tell the truth about his experience in Massachusetts
- Answer the question
Later in the debate there was a question about gun control, which did not seem to present much of an opening for the candidates to address women specifically. But Mittens found a way.
Q: President Obama, during the Democratic National Convention in 2008, you stated you wanted to keep AK-47s out of the hands of criminals. What has your administration done or plan to do to limit the availability of assault weapons?
MS. CROWLEY: Governor Romney, the question is about assault weapons, AK-47s.
MR. ROMNEY: Yeah, I — I'm not in favor of new pieces of legislation on — on guns and — and taking guns away or — or making certain guns illegal. We of course don't want to have automatic weapons, and that's already illegal in this country to have automatic weapons.
What I believe is we have to do as the president mentioned towards the end of his remarks there, which is to make enormous efforts to enforce the gun laws that we have and to change the culture of violence we have. And you ask, how are we going to do that? And there are a number of things.
He mentioned good schools. I totally agree. We were able to drive our schools to be number one in the nation in my state, and I believe if we do a better job in education, we'll — we'll give people the — the hope and opportunity they deserve, and perhaps less violence from that.You could really see the wheels turning in Mitt's head as he worked his way through this answer: Okay, gun control question...I can't actually talk about gun control or say anything bad about guns because the NRA owns the Republican party...I know, I'll do a vague "culture of violence" thing and get in some of my education talking points...yeah okay, this is great, now I can pivot to a traditional families thing, moms and dads, no gays allowed, that will make the social conservatives happy...darn, just singled out single moms, I don't want to undo all of my lady pandering I just did a few minutes ago, let me throw in a mention of single dads too...think about getting married to someone before you have babies, that's a great idea if I do say so myself...change the culture!...okay done, nailed it.
But let me mention another thing, and that is parents. We need moms and dads helping raise kids. Wherever possible, the — the benefit of having two parents in the home — and that's not always possible. A lot of great single moms, single dads. But gosh, to tell our kids that before they have babies, they ought to think about getting married to someone — that's a great idea because if there's a two-parent family, the prospect of living in poverty goes down dramatically. The opportunities that the child will — will be able to achieve increase dramatically.
So we can make changes in the way our culture works to help bring people away from violence and give them opportunity and bring them in the American system.
In some ways this was the reverse of the equal pay moment - there he had a direct question about a specific issue that affects women and managed to avoid it entirely, and here he had a very specific question about an issue that had nothing to do with women and he managed to hand single mothers the blame. Almost impressive.
Back to ladybusiness. President Obama made a point of bringing up women's health several times during the debate, and specifically mentioned Planned Parenthood and all of the affordable health care that they provide to women (and men) across the country. He also mentioned the fact that Republicans like Mitt Romney are constantly trying to cut Planned Parenthood's funding and do anything else they can to prevent us from making our own choices about issues like birth control and deny us access to the health care that we need. Needless to say, Mitt wasn't happy about this:
MR. ROMNEY: I — I'd just note that I don't believe that bureaucrats in Washington should tell someone whether they can use contraceptives or not, and I don't believe employers should tell someone whether they could have contraceptive care or not. Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives. And — and the — and the president's statement of my policy is completely and totally wrong.This is the perfect way to end this breakdown, with the easiest kind of statement to analyze of them all - the blatant lie. Romney supported the Blunt Amendment, which would have given employers the exact power that he's now saying he doesn't believe in - the right to deny contraceptive coverage to their employees if it conflicts with their "religious beliefs or moral convictions". He also opposes the new Obama administration rule that requires insurance companies to provide coverage for contraception with no co-pay. (There's even a snazzy and factually inaccurate petition on his website about it which makes an argument about religious freedom that so far has failed to convince even Bush-appointed judges who have ruled on the issue.) He also told Mike Huckabee in an interview that he would "absolutely" support a constitutional amendment stating that life begins at conception. So called "personhood" amendments are majorly unpopular and aren't even supported by many people in the anti-choice community because they're so extreme that they could potentially outlaw certain forms of birth control and fertility treatments in addition to abortion. Oh yeah, and he has also stated repeatedly that if he's elected, he will "immediately" eliminate all federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which is a pretty confusing way to demonstrate his stated belief here that "every woman in America should have access to contraceptives".
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Governor, that's not true.
I think that even if you didn't already know what Mitt Romney was all about as far as women's issues are concerned, this debate told you everything that you need to know. He doesn't believe that we deserve straight answers to our questions. He sees women primarily in terms of our identities as wives and mothers and that reflects in the examples that he chooses to describe us. He doesn't see a need for new policies to help us achieve equality. He has no problem with lying to us about issues that are critical to our health. And he just doesn't respect us.
That's the Mitt Romney that I saw on Tuesday night. What about you?