Last Updated: 11:53 PM, April 12, 2012
Posted: 11:16 PM, April 12, 2012
Liberals have made hay for weeks over the notion of a Republican “war on women.” But an errant bit of Wednesday-night TV punditry revealed once again that culture wars go both ways — and when liberals go into battle on family issues, they often shoot themselves in the foot.
Democratic mouthpiece Hilary Rosen said on CNN that Ann Romney “has never actually worked a day in her life.”
The minute the words were out of her mouth, Obamaites understood Rosen had stepped in it. And they couldn’t brush off her remarks: She’s one of the leading left-leaning public-relations executives in America, and a business partner of former Obama communications director Anita Dunn.
David Axelrod, Obama’s chief strategist, tweeted that the remarks “were inappropriate and offensive.” Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said, “Her comments were wrong, and family should be off limits.”
The damage control didn’t work, because the problem isn’t that Rosen said something critical about Ann Romney — it’s what she actually said.
By asserting that a woman who spent nearly 30 years of her life taking care of five sons “never actually worked a day in her life,” Rosen wasn’t just being nasty about a woman she wanted to paint as out of touch with ordinary people.
She was expressing a fashionable and aggressive liberal opinion about female social roles and the responsibilities of women to play the role Hilary Rosen wants them to.
First-wave feminists led by Betty Friedan half a century ago sought to liberate women from the supposedly soul-deadening shackles of the home. But after decades of liberation, it turned out many women didn’t want that “liberation.”
This gave rise to the now-infamous battles in the pages of pop-psych supermarket-checkout magazines between SAHMs (stay-at-home moms) and WOHMs (work-outside-the-home moms).
The ideological WOHM counterattack came in the past decade, led by a retired law professor named Linda Hirschman. In a startlingly crude series of articles and a book called “Get to Work,” she declared that women who stayed home were betraying themselves — and their gender.
“The tasks of housekeeping and child-rearing,” Hirschman declared, are “not worthy of the full time and talents of intelligent and educated human beings.” Worse yet, they were creating the conditions that allowed men to dominate the workplace.
Women who stay at home don’t believe this; they believe they’re making a sacrifice, dedicating themselves to others. They’re also sacrificing income, and the status that comes with an independent working identity.
What Hilary Rosen said wasn’t offensive to Ann Romney. It was an offense against these women, and an offense against cultural traditionalism.
And this attitude is one the president has suggested he shares to some degree. A week ago, he said, “Once I was in the state Legislature, I was teaching, I was practicing law, I’d be traveling. And we didn’t have the luxury for [Michelle Obama] not to work.”
By describing the act of staying at home with the kids as a “luxury,” President Obama suggested he was on the Rosen-Hirschman side of the cultural divide. And that’s a bad place to be going into an election.
For three decades now, twice as many people have described themselves in polls as “conservative” than as “liberal” (these days, 44 to 22 percent). And in this context, the word “conservative” really means “traditionalist.”
Brushfires like the one Rosen set off are the sorts of things that will convince those conservatives — and many of the moderates who make up the other third of America — that the “war on women” they’ve been hearing so much about is actually a war on the traditional gender roles they believe in.
And that is not good for Barack Obama.