The strangest, and most disheartening thing about the Twitter firestorm that erupted this week after Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen pointedly questioned Ann Romney’s fitness to serve as her husband’s ambassador on women’s economic issues was the speed with which her own party rushed to denounce her. Noting to CNN’s Anderson Cooper that Romney — a daughter of privilege who became wealthier still while married to Mitt — had “never worked a day in her life,” Rosen voiced the suggestion that she was, perhaps, less than ideally suited for relaying the financial worries and stresses of most American women to her husband’s presidential campaign. “She’s 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,” Rosen said.
(MORE: Ann Romney and Hilary Rosen Debate Motherhood: What American Women Really Think)
Republicans counterattacked, as to be expected. But Democratic Rosen-bashing was every bit as vigorous.
Democratic strategist David Axelrod called Rosen’s words “inappropriate and offensive.”
Obama campaign manager Jim Messina tweeted: “She should apologize.”
Deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter added on: “Families must be off-limits on campaigns,” she said, “and I personally believe stay-at-home moms work harder than most of us do.” With even the Obamas eventually weighing in, Rosen, by the end of the day, had no choice but to apologize.
Why did Democrats feel such an urgent need to distance themselves from a comment that was 1) accurate — Romney doesn’t exactly have much in common with the 75% of women who now work for a living — and 2) frankly inoffensive? (I happen to agree with the Washington Post‘s Ruth Marcus that Rosen’s only real fault, in the Anderson Cooper exchange, lay in forgetting to use the politically correct phrase “work outside the home” instead of the politically toxic word work to describe the remunerative activity Romney didn’t have to engage in.)
(MORE: Cecile Richards: Mitt Romney’s About-Face on Women’s Health)
That the Democrats felt such a need to throw Rosen under a bus suggests to me that they, like the Romney campaign itself, are guilty both of knee-jerk cynicism in regards to female voters and of being out of touch. We all know, on the one hand, that there’s a certain portion of the population that feels not just left behind but generally dissed by what they identify as the evolution of attitudes and mores in our era: they’re the Sarah Palin constituency. But these conservative women were never going to vote for Obama anyway. If you widen your sights beyond them, the larger truth about American women (and men) reveals that the deep-seated attitudinal divisions that once underlay our great national drama over women’s roles, and over working motherhood in particular, are now largely a thing of the past.
The “mancession” of recent years has made more mothers than ever before responsible for the lion’s share of their children’s economic well-being. Attitudes tend to follow behavior change: in 2010, according to the General Social Survey, which has collected data on social trends and attitudes since 1972, fully 75% of Americans agreed that “a working mother can establish just as warm and secure a relationship with her children as a mother who does not work.” Sixty-five percent of the public even now believes that preschool children are not likely to suffer if their mothers work outside the home.
The “mommy wars” may be alive and well on playgrounds and school pickup lines in well-off areas. But they can’t any longer truly serve as a meaningful wedge to divide and conquer American women.
The Democrats owe an apology to Hilary Rosen. She made a sloppy semantic error but issued no actual slap in the face to Ann Romney or the small percentage of privileged women who can truly, realistically, identify with her. All the rest is just a distraction.