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Defining Dignity: Romney, Working Mothers and Double Standards

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The only time Republicans respect a woman's decision to stay-at-home and raise children is when she has the comfort of a trust fund, millionaire husband, au pair, paid tutors, multiple homes and bank accounts from Luxembourg to the Cayman Islands.

The media faux-controversy of the past week involved renowned Democratic strategist and political pundit Hilary Rosen, who in a CNN interview challenged Mitt Romney's recent toting of his wife Ann as chief campaign advisor on women and the economy. But as Rosen succinctly explained, Ann Romney "had never worked a day in her life."

The backlash went viral.

Within hours Obama's senior campaign strategist David Axelrod penned a Twitter message expressing disappointment. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was sure to distance the president from Rosen, explaining she is not officially aligned to the DNC or Oval Office. President Obama himself followed suit. "There is no tougher job than being a mom," he told a local TV station. "I think this was an ill-advised statement by somebody on television."

The response is understandable considering this is an election year, and President Obama and his team are careful in controlling their message and the messengers. But what has been missed in the hoopla is a simple truth: Hilary Rosen was right.

Conservatives, of course, had a field day. The Fox News propaganda machine was in full gear: declaring a "War on Moms." Romney and his campaign used the golden opportunity to garner support from women voters; a task he had undoubtedly failed to achieve throughout the primary. Polls just a week before showed he trailed Obama by double-digits among likely female voters. Considering women are 53% of the electorate, Romney knew this was an opportunity he needed to seize.

Ann Romney strategically joined Twitter to help rally the base and steal away "momma grizzlies" who had been waiting for a post-Palin personality with which to identify. Thirty-thousand followers later, Ann is a media darling, aiding in the reform of her husband's stiff demeanor and giving his candidacy new life.

But as fate would have it, it wasn't long before an oft-imitated but never replicated, Romney etch-a-sketch moment was revealed.

Last weekend, Chris Hayes, editor-at-large of the Nation magazine and MSNBC host, revealed his team had unearthed video footage from just three months ago, during which Mitt Romney declared before a crowd of primary voters his belief that mothers on welfare should have "the dignity of work."

"I wanted to increase the work requirement," Romney explained. "I said, for instance, that even if you have a child two years of age, you need to go to work. And people said, 'Well that's heartless.' And I said, 'No, no ... I want the individuals to have the dignity of work."

Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised. Romney is, after all, the candidate who declared in 2009 America should "let Detroit go bankrupt," and earlier this year revealed he wasn't "concerned about the very poor." Another gaffe unwittingly recorded Mitt saying we need to let the mortgage market "hit the bottom."

But there's something unique about this latest revelation which is different from past gaffes, because for the first time he has implicated those closest to him. If what America has indeed been waiting for is a glimpse into the real Romney: here you have it. Romney's gaffes aren't gaffes at all. They represent a philosophy that is shared by those in his inner circle; namely his family and most fervent supporters. Like Mitt, they are all out of touch with the realities of everyday life for the majority of Americans, and indeed the world's global citizenry.

The results of the 2010 Census reveal that half of all Americans are either low-income wage earners or living below the poverty line. Since the welfare reforms of the Clinton-Gingrich era, poverty has steadily increased as welfare dependence has consistently decreased. The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program - more commonly known as 'welfare' - is, in fact, temporary. Despite GOP dogma that frames welfare mothers as undeserving, black and brown inner city women, the overwhelming majority of recipients are white- and most work part-time, and are full-time parents. As Salon Editor Joan Walsh famously articulated, Republicans like to think the assistance given to America's poor is a "hammock they are swinging in." It most certainly is not.

Many women, by Romney's own recent admission, have lost their jobs due to the Bush-Cheney recession. Those who may otherwise chose to spend a year or two away from work to nurture their children in the first crucial years of development are no longer afforded a "choice." The very jobs Romney, during his tenure at Bain Capital, helped to ship off-shore to China, India and beyond are no longer available. The government jobs many women relied upon have also been eliminated due to state funds being cut, and the Republican Party's insistence on austerity measures.

These circumstances serve as the backdrop to understanding the vast chasm that exists between Ann Romney's reality and options -- and the very limited choices most American women confront every day.

Earlier this year, the Harvard-educated Ann told Fox News' Neal Cavuto "I don't consider myself wealthy." This from a woman whose husband is worth $250 million and has gifted a $100 million trust fund to their five sons.

Indeed, motherhood is hard work. It is more difficult for women who work both inside and outside the home: relying on income that must be stretched so thin it becomes translucent. This is the struggle and 'work' of most women.

Ann and Mitt are deluded if they fail to understand their story is not commonplace in a nation where the American Dream is becoming increasingly elusive.

The GOP consistently attack the moderate Democrat Obama as being socialist, yet seek to pawn off a wealthy, out-of-touch tycoon as a "man of the people." And as that strategy fails they retreat to trotting out his wife, an equally oblivious character, to soften the lies and sell the snake oil.

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