Sigh. It's been more than a generation since people who wanted to know a woman's occupation learned to ask, not if they worked, but if they worked outside the home.
So it was egregious political malpractice when CNN commentator (and sometime Democratic strategist) Hilary Rosen responded to questions about Ann Romney's view of women and the economy by blurting out that the wealthy wife of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee — a mother of five — had never worked a day in her life.
Only the most obtuse — and those who wanted to be — would not know that Rosen was referring to the fact Ann Romney never worked at a job for wages, but the Internet exploded nevertheless. "I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys," Ann Romney tweeted. "Believe me, it was hard work."
So began an idiotic reprise of what used to be called the mommy wars, back when many more American women than today had an economically realistic choice of whether to work outside (and inside) the home or work only inside, raising their children while presumably being supported by their husbands. You know, in the olden days when a middle-class family could get by on one income. In any event, whether by choice or necessity, these days 65 percent of women with children under 18 work at jobs.
The proximate cause of Rosen's remark was Mitt Romney's downright weird way of dealing with women's issues. Rather than talking with women himself, he prefers to quote his wife's findings on the campaign trail, as if she's an ambassador to an alien species.
For Republicans — who face a huge gender gap because of nearly 1,000 state and federal bills abridging reproductive rights that they have introduced since 2010 — Rosen's slip was, as Ann Romney later put it, a gift. Per usual, a large number of Democrats joined in the misinterpretation of Rosen's obvious point and forthrightly defended the raising of children as work. Double sigh.
As anyone who doesn't drive a couple of Cadillacs ought to recognize, that's not the issue. It's what we as a nation are willing to do to help moms and their families make decent lives for themselves. In recent years, Republicans have opposed equal-pay measures, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and strengthening the safety net. Democrats haven't been all that courageous in sticking up for families either. That's the discussion we should be having.
In January, Romney bragged to a New Hampshire audience about requiring women with children over 2 years old to work (outside the home) in order to receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, even though some called it heartless.