Mitt Romney launched a memorable meme when he said he had "binders of women," but his amusing turn of phrase shined a light on a horrible answer and a big problem. He doesn't support equal pay for women, and, gosh, he's trying so hard not to admit it. When it comes to women's issues, Barack Obama is only too happy to force Romney into contortions and distortions to change the subject.
Let's go back to the debate exchange:
"Governor Romney, pay equity for women?" asked Candy Crowley.
In a perfect world, Romney would have answered the question, but instead, Mitt happened.
"An important topic," began Romney, "and one which I learned a great deal about, particularly as I was serving as governor of my state, because I had the chance to pull together a cabinet and all the applicants seemed to be men.
"And I -- and I went to my staff, and I said, 'How come all the people for these jobs are -- are all men.' They said, 'Well, these are the people that have the qualifications.' And I said, 'Well, gosh, can't we -- can't we find some -- some women that are also qualified?'"
Instead of taking a position on whether women should be paid as much as men -- and really, is that so difficult? -- Romney accidentally revealed two things: 1) He had no women in his inner circle, and 2) the men in his inner circle imagined a world in which no women in Massachusetts were qualified to serve in his cabinet. Since when did politics in Massachusetts become a sexist backwater? Even George W. Bush had Karen Hughes in his inner circle as Texas Governor a decade earlier.
What Romney said next has since been proven as balderdash. He never instigated the creation of binders full of resumes of qualified women (a women's group did that during the 2002 campaign), and the number of women in high-level positions declined during Romney's term as governor.
At this point in Romney's decline into historical revisionism, we still don't know where he stands on pay equity for women. But that's not important, Romney says, because he knows what the ladies really want: to be with their children.
"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," said Romney. "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."
Ooh, the word every woman wants to hear: "Fine." It's a wonder there's a gender gap at all.
Romney ran out the clock on his answer by pivoting to job growth without ever saying whether he thinks women are worth as much as men in the workplace, something Obama was only too happy to point out.
"I just want to point out that when Governor Romney's campaign was asked about the Lilly Ledbetter bill, whether he supported it? He said, 'I'll get back to you.' And that's not the kind of advocacy that women need in any economy," said Obama.
In the spin room after the debate, Romney's surrogates tried to say that it didn't matter whether Romney supported the Lilly Ledbetter Act, but Ed Gillespie gave new meaning to the room's name when he said that Romney didn't support the equal pay law in 2009 but that he wouldn't oppose it as president.
You can't get elected president if you need to pivot away from talking about half of the country. When women make up half our workforce, it's really hard to imagine a politician who's not eager to tell them that they deserve to make as much as men, unless, of course, that's not what Romney believes.