We all know the drill by now. It seems that every time Mitt Romney has a big day - winning a key primary, driving a pesky challenger out of the race - he follows it up by tripping over his shoelaces and falling on his face. Either he does it personally ("I'm not concerned about the very poor"), or his staff knots the laces ("Etch a Sketch"), but the bottom line is the same.
Yesterday it happened again. Fresh from the surrender of Rick Santorum, the triumphant Romney campaign resolved to address its double-digit deficit with women voters - a wise idea, because if Romney fails to close his gender chasm during general election season, it's game over. But when Romney aides staged a morning conference call with reporters, disaster quickly ensued.
An aide was asked whether Romney supports the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act - an '09 law signed by President Obama, a law that makes it easier for women to sue in federal court over pay discrimination. It was a good question, in light of what happened last week in Wisconsin, where Republican Gov. Scott Walker (who faces a June recall election) signed a law that makes it tougher for women to sue in state court over pay discrimination. Walker's law actually repeals a state law that had favored women - and Romney last month hailed Walker as a "hero," a "man of courage." So what about the federal law that aids women in the uphill fight for pay equity? Does Romney support it?
The Romney aide paused for a few moments, then said: "We'll have to get back to you on that."
That non-answer spoke volumes. Either Romney didn't have a position on a high-profile law crucial to workplace women, or the law was not even on Team Mitt's radar screen (which would suggest that the campaign is oblivious to workplace women), or maybe Team Mitt was worried about saying yes and thus ticking off Republicans - because, after all, most Republican lawmakers opposed the Ledbetter measure on Capitol Hill.
So several hours ticked by, hours that the Obama campaign put to good use - by releasing a statement from Ledbetter herself, castigating Romney for hesitating on a key women's issue. (In presidential politics, the rapid-response turnaround time has been reduced to nanoseconds.) Finally, Team Mitt coughed up a hairball and said that, yes, Romney supports pay equity and "is not looking to change current law." That response was a con job, because it gave him all kinds of wiggle room. Even if he's "not looking" to change the law, Republican lawmakers in Washington certainly are. If Romney were president, would he sign a GOP-sponsored repeal (echoing his "hero," Scott Walker)? His aides didn't go near that one.
But that episode yesterday was merely the appetizer. Romney himself served up the main course, claiming that Obama, not the GOP, is waging a war on women. Say what?
On the campaign trail, Romney said: "The real war on women has been waged by the Obama administration’s failure on the economy." He said that women have lost 92 percent of all the jobs that have been shed since Obama took office. Team Mitt has been floating that stat since last Friday, when the campaign press secretary put it in a Tweet.
It's quite a number; clearly, the Romney campaign figures that if it can't gain ground with women, maybe it can drive up Obama's negatives among women. The big problem, however, is that the stat is a con job:
1. Romney's job loss count begins in January 2009, when Obama was inaugurated. In other words, he fully blames Obama for the steaming pile that George W. Bush dumped in his lap. The Great Recession was raging for more than a year before Obama even took the oath.
2. Women took the big hit in the second wave (after January '09), which is typically what happens during recessions. Men got whacked in the first wave (pre-January '09), because, per the usual pattern, the first adversely affected economic sectors were male-dominated construction and manufacturing. Health care and education, strong female sectors, suffered in the second wave. Again, per the usual pattern.
3. Speaking of education, women have been especially hit hard by successive rounds of layoffs in public education. Care to guess why? Because Republican governors and Republican legislatures have been slashing state education budgets. In other words, Romney is trying to blame Obama for those heavily female layoffs. Which is ironic, because Obama has twice tried to get federal legislation that would prevent teacher layoffs. Need I bother to identify those who have opposed him?
Various independent fact-checkers naturally assailed Romney's stat as woefully misleading, and so ended his first big day reaching out to women. But if you assume that Team Mitt was humbled by its latest stumbles, you'd be mistaken. Con jobs tend to work better with constant practice. The truth squads can't keep up. And so, even after the con was thoroughly exposed, this little missive arrived last night in my in-box, sponsored by the Romney campaign:
"Women account for 92 percent of all job losses since Barack Obama took office. Yes, you read that right. Don't be fooled - this is the real war on women."
It's going to be a long year.
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