10/22/2012 03:13 pm ET Updated Dec 22, 2012

'If' Only Romney Understood Women

There has been a lot of discussion of Mitt Romney's reference to "binders full of women" in the town hall forum when asked what he would do for equality of women in the work force. I was more struck by his use of the two-letter word "if" than by the binders. His answer began, "if you are going to have women in the workforce, you need to be more flexible," and went on to explain that women will be not be able to stay late lest they not have dinner on the table when the family gets home. I guess he would be aghast at the number of parents who share both household chores and child rearing responsibilities. He reminds me of Don Draper of 1960s Mad Men fame, who struggled to accept the stage career of his wife Megan. Could a woman really have her own aspirations? How absurd!

I am still scratching my head over the perception that Mitt Romney has of women who work. The "if" says a lot about his inability to accept the fact that most women are working outside the home -- there is no "if" about it. The necessity for both parents to work is almost universal. They work to pay the mortgage or rent and put food on the table. They work to pay off student loans. They work to put money into savings. And they work to have a decent standard of living in a world where necessities are increasingly expensive. Women are pursuing careers that are enhancing the GDP of this country and many households rely on a woman who is the sole income for her family. The "if" said a lot about Romney, but when you combine it with his support for the Blunt Amendment and his endorsement of "Life begins at the Moment of Fertilization" amendment, you have to wonder if he can understand the life of typical American women. I'm sure millions of working women who are clipping coupons for groceries breathed a sigh of relief Romney said that under his plan they would not be paying any more in capital gains taxes.

This brings up the question of the magic number for tax deductions. Romney threw out the number of a lump-sum credit of $25,000 dollars in the last debate. In most urban areas, it would not be unusual for families to pay a monthly mortgage of $2,000, most of which qualifies as interest deduction. There goes $24,000 of your $25,000, leaving no room for child care, medical, education or charitable deductions. The fact that he has thrown out different thresholds -- sometimes as low as $17,000 for the lump-sum deduction to be used as you please -- says he either has not run the numbers or he has no idea how this affects working families and their bottom line -- or both. Offering these families no tax on their savings when interest rates are at rock bottom couldn't be less relevant. He said with a straight face that this would "make life a lot easier." Who is he talking to? Some nebulous idea of the "middle class" that could not be farther from reality.

Romney's five-point plan for fixing the deficit is beginning to sound as empty as Herman Cain's 9-9-9. Not only that, but for all the talk of the importance of middle-class families and, more specifically, women in middle-class families, his plan gives them no relief.

President Obama was right when he said that access to contraception is an economic issue, but he should have gone further. Contraception coverage gives women a way to control their fertility. Families can plan with some degree of certainty when they can afford a child.

Mitt Romney stood in front of an audience in Nassau, N.Y., and said that he believed that neither government nor employers should have the ability to limit a woman's access to contraceptives.

The same Mitt Romney supported the Blunt Amendment that does just that; when the conscience of the employer does not sanction the use of contraceptives the employer could refuse to cover the cost in the employee's insurance plan. The Blunt-Rubio Amendment would allow any employer to refuse to cover any health care service for religious or moral grounds. So where would Mr. Romney be on pre-natal care for unmarried women or HIV treatments or tubal litigation?

Here we are, two weeks out from the election wondering not only what does Mitt Romney believe in his heart about issues but also what does Mitt Romney believe in his heart about the lives of middle-class families? His positions on issues important to middle-class women, like access to contraception and affordable health care, and on issues important to their families like tax relief and a strong public education system are basically gibberish at this point. He's been all over the map. But if you look at the platform of the Republican Party this year, and you look at the kind of ultra-conservative candidates they have running, it's fair to assume that the "severely conservative" Mitt Romney is the one who would step into the Oval Office in January 2013. In the end, that's not something women, especially women in middle-class families, can afford.