After watching a totally disastrous interview featuring Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) I became curious about Mitt Romney’s new Women for Mitt Coalition for which Blackburn is an Honorary Co-Chair. The interview, conducted by CNN correspondent Brooke Baldwin centered on recent remarks by Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul that not only defended Romney’s Massachusetts health care plan, an anathema to conservatives, but sort of praised it.
Blackburn, who isn’t as well known as her colleague Michele Bachmann but could give her a run for the money in both dumb and crazy, simply refused to acknowledge the existence of the plan. As Baldwin pressed harder and harder Blackburn repeatedly fell back on hackneyed talking points about Obamacare so clumsily that I was afraid she might hurt herself. Exasperated, Baldwin repeatedly said the question had nothing to do with the president’s plan but a panicked Blackburn, like an old doll with a string in the middle of her back, parroted the points until Baldwin gave up. Yet another Romney spokesperson doing a stellar job for the beleaguered candidate.
This is emblematic of the problem Romney has when the speaker is a woman or our gender is the topic. His spokespeople, both male and female communicate with women even less effectively than he does himself. Even his wife has flailed around in recent interviews. This is because he doesn’t understand us, Republicans don’t understand us, and the women with power in the party either don’t understand us or just plain detest us.
After the Blackburn debacle I looked up the names of the women Romney has assembled in his coalition. That Blackburn is an Honorary Co-Chair doesn’t mean much. There are 41 co-chairs, all politicians including the handful of Republican women senators, a lot of congresswomen and what I presume to be all of the Republican governors and lieutenant governors. There is also one state senator, Alberta Darling, which should win Romney a lot of street cred in Wisconsin. The list is pro-forma. Given their positions Romney had to invite them (even Bachmann is on the list) and they almost certainly had to accept. However, the anti-woman stance of many co-chairs on multiple issues makes me wonder how group will aid Romney in appealing to moderate Republican or independent women.
But the 15 members of the Advisory Board say a lot about Romney’s attitude toward women. There are a few women of notable accomplishment; former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice certainly fits that description as does philanthropist Catherine Reynolds. Several others have apparently been successful in business although, aside from Carley Fiorina they are not household names. Fiorina, former and fired president of HP was a leading McCain spokesperson in 2008 when some her remarks were called “Biden-like.” Her most notable gaffe concerned McCain’s stance on birth control and healthcare. Whoops.
Also on the list; a former ambassador, a co-chair of the Republican National Committee, and Romney’s former lieutenant governor Kerry Healy. But seven of the 16 women on the board including Ann Romney, its titular head, are prominent almost solely because they are married to a current or former office holder.
How totally and utterly perfect! Almost half of the women who will be advising the possible president will be doing so by virtue of the fact they slept their way to success. In a genteel, legal and fully approved Republican manner (except perhaps for Callista Gingrich) of course. They made the grade to advise his campaign because they are married to men in power.
This illuminates the whole conservative attitude toward women and the attitude of Republican women toward the world. Republicans and especially Republican women believe there can be no higher achievement for a woman than marriage, especially if accompanied by motherhood. Of course that phrase absolutely does not work the other way around. To be a mother without marriage is to be deemed unfit for almost anything.
Which explains in part why most women who support Romney are either married, extremely rich, or both. The rich ones are Republican because they are rich. The married ones operate on the presumption that, having secured man and ring they can turn their back on reality and the needs of other women and children. It is a different level of the “I’ve got mine” attitude that prevails in the party and somewhat limits the field from which Romney can pick advisors and spokespeople. This may account for the duds he consistently gets.
I am sure the seven political wives are very nice women with accomplishments and stories of their own. The Romney website does mention that Karen Santorum is the mother of seven, attorney, author, and former neonatal intensive care nurse. Gingrich is listed as President of Gingrich Productions (if you need help with this one I am sure Google can provide it) and Supriya Jindal founded a children’s foundation. Anita Perry, Mary Pawlenty, and Dema Guinn are identified only as current or former first ladies.
Mitt might have considered the value in leaving Gingrich to her incessant flogging of books and videos in favor of choosing an advisor who had experienced poverty or fought back from some tremendous hardship. There are no a class-room teachers, factory workers, or first responders on the list nor anyone who ever started a genuine small business (although Paula Speers and her husband own a management consulting firm). Romney apparently did not think it was important to seek some information about life from a few women who may have lived less glamorous versions of it rather than making pretty speeches at fund-raising teas or representing their husbands at events he didn’t consider important enough to attend himself. Ironically, Santorum has the greatest claim on a life outside the political bubble but her extreme religious views and 1950s views about birth control radically narrow her perspective.
I was born and raised in Utah and often debated the gender inequality of local culture with female college classmates, citing the fact that only men can hold the Mormon priesthood. The rejoinder always was, “but we hold the priesthood in our arms.” Apparently in determining who could best advise the campaign on women’s issues the candidate and his wife assumed that rule also applied to experience and leadership.
Authors note: The members of the Advisory Committee to the Women for Mitt Coalition as listed on the Romney Website are:
Condoleezza Rice, Former Secretary of State
Kerry Healey, former Lt. Governor of Massachusetts
Karen Santorum, Mother of 7, attorney, author, and former neonatal intensive care nurse
Callista Gingrich, President, Gingrich Productions
Mary Pawlenty, Former First Lady of Minnesota
Anita Perry, First Lady of Texas
Rachel Campos Duffy, author and television host
Sharon Day, Co-Chair, Republican National Committee
Paula Speers, Co-founder, Health Advances
Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard
Jovita Carranza, former Vice President of Air Operations for UPS
Supriya Jindal, First Lady of Louisiana and Founder of the Supriya Jindal Foundation for Louisiana’s Children
Catherine Reynolds, Chairman of the Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation
Dema Guinn, Former First Lady of Nevada
Aldona Wos, Former Ambassador to Estonia
When I moved from Boston to Georgia ten years ago they told me about grits and pork rinds, warned me about the bugs, and assured me there would be a lot less snow. They did not tell me that belonging to a church is required by statute and that I would be the only liberal between Atlanta and the Canary Islands.
There are, however, Yellow Dogs. These are Southerners who would vote for a Golden Retriever if it were running as a Democrat. That these people would be called Republicans if they lived in New England does not make me one bit less grateful that they exist.