Women -- along with a handful of undecided voters -- are pretty much going to decide this thing come November 6. The gender gap is at historic highs, and if solely women were voting, there’s no question as to who would be occupying the White House for the next four years.
In the last weeks before the election, Romney has shown himself ready to get down on bended knee to woo the female vote. Which would be cute, if he didn’t have a record of denying women their basic human rights. Unbeknownst to Mitt, women, in addition to making handy office workers, are also fully capable of seeing through all the manipulations, mansplaining and malarkey that have been spread around this campaign season. So let’s pause a moment to take a look at Mitt’s continual war on women’s credibility.
1. Global Rights for Women
In the final presidential face-off Monday night, Romney seemed to glow with the fire of the global struggle for women’s rights. Right off the bat, he hailed the Arab Spring and the “hope that there would be a change towards more moderation, and opportunity for greater participation on the part of women in public life….”
Maybe that glow was really the tell-tale flush of the hypocrite. Because the funny thing is, women can’t participate effectively in public life if they can’t get access to family planning services and find themselves thrown into abject poverty trying to feed too many children.
Mitt has vowed that his first order of business as president would be to reinstate the devastating “global gag rule,” also known as the “Mexico City policy” -- a restriction originally hatched by Reagan that has been used to block federal money for family-planning work abroad to any organization that provided information, advice, referrals or services for legal abortion or supported the legalization of abortion -- even using its own funds. As the New York Times summarizes, “Merely talking about abortion could cost groups not only federal money, but also useful technical support and American-donated supplies of contraceptives, including condoms for distribution in the communities they serve.”
President Obama lifted the global gag rule after taking office, a move that was a much-needed step in the fight to end world poverty. Mitt Romney has taken it as his highest priority to see that the misery factor for women around the globe increases the moment he takes office.
2. Reproductive Freedom
Mitt’s plans for women at home are as cruel as those for their sisters abroad. Make no mistake: Romney will say whatever it takes to get elected, and then govern exactly as he pleases. In a Republican debate, he boasted of switching positions on a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy once he became governor of Massachusetts. He campaigned as pro-choice to secure votes, and then reversed himself in office to win conservative GOP support. In his own words:
“I changed my mind as the governor. This didn't just happen the last couple of weeks or the last year. This happened when I was governor the first time a bill came to my desk that related to life. I could not sign a bill that would take away human life. I came down on the side of life every single instance as governor of Massachusetts. I was awarded by the Massachusetts Citizens for Life with their leadership award for my record.”
For a mind-bending trip through Romney’s lies, switches and obfuscations on pregnancy termination, check out a video by Slate’s William Saletan.
Mitt has pledged to defund Planned Parenthood, appoint only the most anti-women judges, and reverse Roe v. Wade. He has lately taken to pretending that he cares about contraception, a necessary part of women’s healthcare, and in the second presidential debate, he said he didn’t believe Washington bureaucrats or employers should tell a woman whether to use contraception. Don’t buy it. Mitt backs the Blunt Amendment, which would allow employers to refuse to cover things like – contraceptives.
3. Equal Pay for Women
In the second matchup with Barack Obama, Romney ducked a question on pay equity, neglecting to express support for equal pay for equal work. Hmm. Could that be because he opposed the Lily Ledbetter Act when it was being debated, as acknowledged by a top GOP adviser?
Instead of addressing this critical question, Romney spewed his now-infamous “binder full of women” nonsense (see number 6), hoping that the audience would forget the actual question.
To get a sense of where he actually stands on this issue, look no further than Romney's own Web site’s discussion of what kind of Supreme Court he would like to install: “As president, Mitt will nominate judges in the mold of Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito.”
As Michael Keegan, president of People for the American Way points out, these are the very judges who denied Lily Ledbetter the right to sue her employer for years of unequal pay -- and made the law necessary in the first place.
4. Social Security
Let’s be clear: Any attack on Social Security is an attack on women. Despite a tsunami of lies on the subject, Social Security is solvent, it does not contribute to the deficit, and it keeps millions of women out of poverty in old age. Women, in particular, rely on Social Security because they live longer, they often have lower benefits due to time out of the workforce having babies, and they make up a greater percentage of beneficiaries.
To use the excuse of a financial crisis to cut benefits (that’s what all the talk about “tweaking” and “fixing” amounts to) is nothing more than the cynical robbery of working people, especially women in favor of the 1 percent, who do not want to pay taxes, and the financiers, who would like to get their hands on accounts to charge fees. The program isn’t “broken,” and the politicians know it. But they don’t want you to know it.
Both candidates have been deceptive on this issue, and Obama has shown every sign of making a grand bargain that sells out the women who need this program – and are already under strain because of its too-low benefits. If you are a single woman with a long life ahead of you, you’ve already got a very difficult road ahead.
Unfortunately, Mitt Romney would probably be even worse, if for no other reason than the fact that dismantling the New Deal has been a prime objective of the Republican Party ever since it was established. He has supported privitization in the past, and would likely do so again. In 1983, Ronald Reagan stole two years of retirement from people born after 1960, raising the age of full benefits from 65 to 67. Mitt has said clearly that he would welcome the opportunity to raise the age again, to 69 or 70. Never mind that there are not enough jobs even for young people, and life expectancy is actually going down for those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder. Or the fact that census datas shows that older women in America are already so poor half of them can't even meet their basic needs, like heating their homes.
5. Work/Family Balance
Break out the Twister mat! Mitt likes flexibility. In the second debate, he professed a great understanding of the need for flexible scheduling for women as part of his bumbling remarks about binders full of women:
“I recognized that if you're going to have women in the workforce that sometimes you 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 or 8 o'clock at night. I need to be able to get home at 5 o'clock 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.”
Putting aside the troubling “if” in this statement, which suggests that working women are some kind of strange new trend, Mitt’s musings reveal his sexist attitudes and general cluelessness about the challenges faced by normal American families. Women, of course, aren’t the only ones who might need to spend time with their kids. And, newsflash for Mitt, most families now have two breadwinners – not just a main breadwinner and somebody who has a supplementary job but also takes care of the children.
Flex-time is not just an issue about women taking care of kids. Many working Americans – both men and women – have eldercare responsibilities that demand their time and attention. They get sick themselves. And frankly, I don’t know how things rolled at Bain, but the emphasis on rigid schedules and face-time is increasingly considered unproductive and retrograde in today’s workplace.
And while we’re at it, what might Mitt have to say about the fact that the U.S. is one of only four countries in the freaking world (the others are Liberia, Swaziland and Papua New Guinea) that doesn't offer paid maternity leave? How’s that for workplace flexibility? An economic penalty dumped on women for procreation!
Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values @ Work, noted to me in an email that Romney's party "opposes any efforts to bring the workplace into the 21st century by establishing modest standards like allowing workers to earn paid sick days and creating family and medical leave insurance funds." She pointed out that "two out of five workers -- and three out of four low-wage workers -- don't earn a single paid sick day" and that "half the workforce isn't covered even by unpaid FMLA." Her message to Mitt: "Don't tell us how much you love your mother and what a great mother your wife is. Stop blocking policies that help all mothers -- and fathers -- be the parents they want to be."
Romney’s remarks clearly show that he is out of touch with women, the workplace and the needs of modern families.
6. Binder Full of Bull
No list of Mitt’s woman-whoppers would be complete without a nod to his declaration that as governor of Massachusetts, he had taken the initiative and gone around to women’s groups to ask for help finding qualified female candidates for his administration.
Here's what really went down: MassGap, a coalition of women’s groups put together binders filled with information on female candidates for high-level positions because they were dismayed by the lack of women in government. They approached Mitt before he took office and put the heat on him to sign a pledge to appoint more women if elected. Though he initially followed through on his promise to appoint more women, many of the most important jobs still went to men. Women got the less important positions. And the number of women declined after his first two years.
How does Romney really feel about women in his inner circle? In These Times has reported that there was a curious absence of women in top positions at Bain. And today, only four out of 49 partners are women. No wonder Mitt didn’t know any qualified women to hire when he was governor.