Mitt Romney knows that closing the gender gap is key to his election chances, and he’s pulling out all the stops to woo women voters. But after drawing negative attention at Tuesday’s debate with his “binders full of women” comment, he’s letting other people do the talking now.
For example, some of the women who worked for Romney when he was governor of Massachusetts are now campaigning for him on a “We Know Mitt” tour that’s traveling through Iowa. His former Lieutenant Governor, Kerry Healey, was on msnbc’s Andrea Mitchell Reports Wednesday and went out of her way to describe birth control as a “peripheral” issue. She even tried to flip the “binder” meme back onto President Obama by saying the president had “an empty binder when it comes to proposals about women in America.”
Healey also referred to “some hypothetical situation” in which a woman might be denied birth control by her employer. This hypothetical situation to which she refers will only be hypothetical as long as Pres. Obama and Democrats retain at least some control in Washington, because Republicans have actively tried to remove the provision protecting women against this reality, and Mitt Romney has made absolutely no indication that he’d stop them.
Meanwhile, it turns out that Romney’s story about “binders full of women” wasn’t the only thing he got wrong at Tuesday’s debate. The NBC News Political Unit fact-checked Romney’s other claim that “women have lost 580,000 jobs” in the last four years and found it false, “no matter how you look at it.” In reality, the number of jobs held by women has declined by a mere 82,000 jobs since Obama took office, and the number of women who consider themselves employed has risen by about 300,000 during the same period.
Even the essence of what Romney tried to convey during his “binders” answer–his supposedly strenuous efforts to get more women into the Massachusetts state government–was inaccurate. The Washington Post fact-checker decided to take on Romney’s claims about gender equity in his cabinet and senior staff, and found this interesting tidbit:
[A] 2007 report from the University of Massachusetts shows that the percentage of women holding top Bay State government positions stood at about 30 percent just prior to the 2002 election. The level dropped to 28 percent by the end of Romney’s term and then rose to 34 percent eight months after Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, took office in 2007.
Romney’s right-wing colleagues are not helping his case either. The conservative Free Beacon published an article Wednesday smearing Katherine Fenton–the 24-year old woman who dared to ask Romney and Obama about pay equity in the first place–based on a weak analysis of her twitter account. Attacking the questioner doesn’t make the issue go away.
The gender pay gap in this country is a significant problem, and it deserves a serious and well-thought out response. Romney and his surrogates may like to point to President Obama’s supposedly empty binder of solutions, but Obama-led initiatives like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act have moved from the ideas binder to the lawbooks. Romney’s proposals amount to little more than a generic promise to improve the economy overall, with no real assurance that women get their fair share of the pie.