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Feminspire | April 17, 2014

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The Second Debate: Women, Women, Binders Full of Women!

The Second Debate: Women, Women, Binders Full of Women!

Did you watch the debate? Last night, President Obama and Governor Romney met in Nassau County, New York (where I grew up!), giving the undecided voters a chance to speak directly to the candidates and giving the country a chance to experience some truly glorious Long Island accents.

The most memorable moment of the debate? Romney’s statements when he was trying to paint himself as a friend of women.

ROMNEY: 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 they brought us whole binders full of women.

Before the debate was even over, there was a Twitter, a Facebook, a Tumblr and a website devoted to the statement. The Facebook page has over two hundred thousand likes as of this morning. All of these media are being used to promote education about women’s rights and women’s issues.

Image courtesy of Binders Full of Women

It wasn’t even true. He portrayed himself as someone who understood that diversity (at least of gender) is important in creating an institution, even though he had men that were qualified. Essentially, he came out in favor of affirmative action, which is under legal threat right now. However, what really happened was that women’s groups in MA compiled a list of women who were qualified and brought it to the Governor, not the other way around. The same women’s group released a study that showed that perhaps Romney’s hiring record was not quite so exemplary when it came to women.

Even if it were true, it came off as condescending and rude–like it was hard to find a qualified woman. (In 2002, not 1900…) In addition, when asked about fair pay, he changed the subject to flexible working schedules for parents–as if that’s solely a woman’s issue. Flexible working schedules are important, but equal pay is also important–and is an issue that affects all women, not just mothers. (Surprise! The two are not synonymous.)

Compare this to President Obama, who talked eloquently about being raised by a single mother who knew personally what it was to be in an unfair workplace. He signed the Lilly Ledbetter Act, incontrovertibly proving that he not only supports fair pay, he knows that there are still institutional blockages to equal pay for women. (Mitt Romney has never definitively answered the question on his support of Lilly Ledbetter.)

The true genius of President Obama, from a feminist standpoint, was the way he broadened the issues of Planned Parenthood, conception and equal pay to be more than just issues that only affect half the population.

OBAMA: …That’s not the kind of advocacy that women need. When Governor Romney says that we should eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood, there are millions of women all across the country, who rely on Planned Parenthood for, not just contraceptive care, they rely on it for mammograms, for cervical cancer screenings. That’s a pocketbook issue for women and families all across the country. And it makes a difference in terms of how well and effectively women are able to work. When we talk about child care, and the credits that we’re providing. That makes a difference in whether they can go out there and — and earn a living for their family.
These are not just women’s issues. These are family issues. These are economic issues.
And one of the things that makes us grow as an economy is when everybody participates and women are getting the same fair deal as men are.

For too long, we have treated issues of women’s reproductive rights and workplace disparity as women’s issues. Abortion rights activists, contraception access activists, and equal pay activists have long been making the case that these are issues that affect the economy. It’s true. This is about our economy and our society as a whole. This is the most important point he possibly could have made. These are not issues that are only relevant to women, or to women who don’t want children, or to women who want to work. This is relevant to all of us.

When Mitt spoke about contraception, he became flustered.

ROMNEY: 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 of not. Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives

In this statement, Romney must have angered a lot of evangelical and conservative supporters in his base. It’s not at all true. He absolutely believes that employers should tell someone whether they can have contraceptive care or not. He released an attack ad in August that accused Obama of waging a war on religious freedom. This is a common conservative talking point–and mostly refers to his HHS mandate, which some say forces employers who believe that birth control is a sin to pay for their employees contraceptives. He wants to defund Planned Parenthood, one of the leading organizations that helps women who can’t afford birth control otherwise obtain contraception. If he truly believes that every woman in America should have access to contraceptives, he needs to fund Planned Parenthood.

While many people are focusing on his ‘binders full of women’–and on the wild Internet reaction–he alienated himself thoroughly from every single parent and every child of a single parent. Personally, this is where I felt he was the most despicable. Instead of rushing through gun control–a loser for both candidates–he decided to morally condemn a huge portion of the population.

Romney: …And you ask how — 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. But let me mention another thing. And that is parents. We need moms and dads, helping to 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. (Emphasis added.)

Leaving aside the absurdity of the man who wants to defund Planned Parenthood and overturn Roe v. Wade telling people they should think before having babies (a.k.a…planning their parenthoods), this portrays a hopelessly out of touch man. A report issued by the Census Bureau in 2009 showed that over one quarter of children under twenty-one–about twenty-six percent–were being raised in single parent homes, and that number is growing. He also showed a callousness and obliviousness towards the plight of many loving, two-adult couples who want badly to have children (to raise in this perfect environment for churning out non-violent kids)–but are barred because they happen to be a same-sex couple.

In addition, the idea that people only end up single parents because they didn’t think before getting married to someone is absurd and downright offensive. People end up single parents because they don’t have access to contraceptives, they are pressured not to have an abortion or don’t have access to one, their spouses die, their spouses leave them for someone else–there are a myriad of reasons.

When it came to social issues, President Obama blew Governor Romney away. Romney came off clueless, flustered and condescending. President Obama’s statements linking social issues to economic issues were powerful and moving.

Mitt Romney knew that Obama’s weakest point was Libya. The morning of the debate, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took the blame for what happened in Benghazi, allowing Obama to give a Truman-esque speech about how the responsibility lies with him. Mitt Romney went on the attack, going to the oft-mentioned point that Obama’s administration initially blamed protesters over a video, not a carefully orchestrated terrorist attack.

The true strong point of the Libya exchange was when Obama called attention to how Mitt Romney played politics with the attacks almost immediately after they occurred.

OBAMA: Now Governor Romney had a very different response. While we were still dealing with our diplomats being threatened, Governor Romney put out a press release, trying to make political points, and that’s not how a commander in chief operates. You don’t turn national security into a political issue. Certainly not right when it’s happening…And the suggestion that anybody in my team, whether the Secretary of State, our U.N. Ambassador, anybody on my team would play politics or mislead when we’ve lost four of our own, governor, is offensive. That’s not what we do. That’s not what I do as president, that’s not what I do as Commander in Chief.

Unfortunately, this point was overshadowed by a truly tremendous act by moderator Candy Crowley–who live fact-checked Mitt Romney in the debate. Obama made the point that he did indeed use the phrase “act of terror” in the Rose Garden immediately following the debate. Mitt Romney claimed he did not, and Candy Crowley said he did, and then mentioned that it did take him two weeks to fully condemn the attack as a terrorist attack.

Here’s the problem: it was a vague statement and open to interpretation. The GOP spin machine has already made it into the central point of their post-debate narrative: Candy Crowley was wrong, or only half-right, but her interruption certainly changed the debate. This allows them to dismiss the entire debate as biased towards President Obama, and discount any idea that President Obama won. What made Romney’s win so profound in Denver was that the Democrats admitted he’d lost. While many pundits initially praised Crowley and called it the most powerful debate point for Obama, the backlash has already begun. The Republicans are making the case that Obama has lost the debate–because of his record as President, and because of Candy Crowley’s live fact-check.

So, unfortunately, this is not the overwhelming win that Obama wanted. He also failed to speak to the obstruction by Congress. If Obama’s failures in office can be linked to a contentious Congress dedicated on stopping him from getting anything done (which they can), he needed to be stronger and clearer about that. It was a win though–the snap polls gave him a slight edge. Can he maintain that edge in face of a powerful post-debate narrative?

There is a lot more to say–but I will stop after this last point. Why Nassau County? Why choose Nassau County to host the one debate where the people have a chance to ask the candidates questions directly? New York is not a swing state, and Nassau hardly represents the average American community. Nassau, which immediately borders New York City, is home to a number of wealthy bedroom communities. Thirteen of the one hundred wealthiest places in the United States are in Nassau County. The median income for a family is about 80,000, which is well above the national average. And those accents are pretty horrible. (I can say that, right? I’m from Nassau!) It’s one of the most racially segregated suburban areas in the country. So, why were its undecided voters chosen to represent the average American?

Written by Jess Mary Aloe
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Header image courtesy of the Washington Post.