It's been said that a gaffe in politics is when someone accidentally tells the truth. I was reminded of that expression recently when fellow talking head Hilary Rosen found herself in a bit of trouble -- at least according to the political chattering classes. For those of you who lead more fulfilling lives than the rest of us, and therefore have been consumed by more substantive matters than the bit of nonsense dubbed "Rosengate," allow me to enlighten you.
Days ago during an appearance on CNN Rosen said:
What you have is Mitt Romney running around the country saying, 'Well what my wife tells me is that what women really care about is economic issues and when I listen to my wife that's what I'm hearing.' Guess what? His wife has actually never worked a day in her life. She has never really dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of the women in this country are facing in terms of how do we feed our kids? How do we send them to school and why do we worry about their future?
For that statement and that statement alone, Rosen, the President, the First Lady and Vice President have spent the last several days apologizing for and denouncing Rosen and her remarks. Despite reading and re-reading the statement at least dozen times I still can't figure out why.
Now, before you start typing your angry defense of stay-at-home moms, please don't bother. I already know that there is not a single stay-at-home mom (at least of small children) that I would be willing to trade places with on my worst day at the office. Why? Because there is no question that the "boss," of any stay-at-home mom -- a sometimes trying child she is trying to shape into the very best adult that she possibly can - -will always be tougher to please than any boss I've ever had. Furthermore, the stakes for whether or not she succeeds or fails at her job on a daily basis will always be greater than the stakes at any job I have ever held outside of the home and ever will.
But, (and this is a big but) there are a number of troubling aspects to the hysteria -- much of it conservative orchestrated, and then media escalated -- surrounding Rosengate. For starters, if we cut past the politically correct nonsense, 99% of what Hilary Rosen said was indisputably accurate. Statistically speaking, if you are reading this blog post, you're probably not a member of the tax bracket of the Romney family. How do I know this? Because 99% of us are not. This means that based on that fact alone, Mrs. Romney "has never really dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of the women in this country are facing." (Question: Do I have to stop and issue an apology for writing that? Because the last person who uttered those very words on television did.)
Thanks to her family being more financially fortunate than the rest of us, Mrs. Romney has not ever worked a day in her life, outside of her home, that is. She hasn't had to.
It is apparently for having the temerity to make this observation (and yes, leaving out the four words "outside of her home") that Ms. Rosen, a onetime stay-at-home mom herself, has been castigated like someone caught on video kicking a puppy.
Let me be clear. Mrs. Romney's contributions as a full-time mother should be both respected and applauded. She has worked hard to raise five boys into accomplished (and from what I've heard, very kind) young men. But she has not had to work as hard as the mom who did the same thing while working one, two and sometimes three jobs outside of the home and without the benefit of a nanny, maid, housekeeper, cook or landscaper, to pick up the slack there. Not to mention the mom who has done it without the financial benefits of a wealthy partner, or a partner at all, to shoulder the burden of food, shelter, educational and healthcare costs, as well as the emotional demands that parenthood brings.
She has not worked as hard as my mother, someone who started out her "working life" picking cotton in the Deep South, followed by a struggle to juggle single motherhood with work and school, so that she would never end up becoming one of those people Mrs. Romney's husband felt compelled to force into the "dignity of work" through government enforced welfare to work programs. (Apparently, Mrs. Romney's husband believes stay-at-home parenting should be a luxury reserved for those who can afford it, sort of like a cruise, I guess.)
But my primary criticism of Rosengate? It further perpetuates the silly idea that shouting about "mommy wars" in a TV segment gives us any real insight into how we empower all parents, of all socioeconomic backgrounds, to become the best parents they can possibly be. Whether a woman -- or man -- is a stay-at-home parent or one who works outside of the home doesn't tell us whether he or she is actually a good parent or not. There are terrific stay-at-home moms and terrible ones. Just as there are terrific working professional moms (I was raised by one) and terrible ones. (While we're on the subject, choosing to become a mother doesn't automatically make a woman a saint, just as choosing not to become one doesn't make her a sinner.)
As Mrs. Romney said in her response to Ms. Rosen's remarks, "My career choice was to be a mother... And I think all of us need to know that we need to respect choices that women make. Other women make other choices to have a career and raise family, which I think Hilary Rosen has actually done herself. I respect that, that's wonderful. But you know, there are other people that have a choice, we have to respect women in all those choices that they make."
I only hope that the Romneys can recognize that Mrs. Romney's choice is a choice that is not available to a majority of American women; many who would probably like to spend more quality time raising their children, just as Mrs. Romney did. But they have to work -- for a living that is. Perhaps the next time Mrs. Romney speaks to her husband about the economics of women, she will mention that.
Click here to see a list of some of the most colorful and controversial presidential campaign spouses.
Keli Goff is the author of The GQ Candidate and a Contributing Editor for Loop21.com where this post originally appeared.