Binders Full of Trouble for Romney
Mitt Romney keeps his women in binders.
At least, that’s what the Internet is now telling us.
Over the past week, the former Massachusetts governor has come under fire for comments he made during the second presidential debate. In response to a question on gender and pay inequality in the workplace, he shared a story about how he had tried to increase the number of women in high-ranking positions in his administration.
“I said: ‘Well, gosh, can’t we find some women that are also qualified? … I went to a number of women’s groups and said, ‘Can you help us find folks?’ And they brought us whole binders full of women.”
He then went on to discuss how he supported making accommodations for women in his administration, citing in particular how he had enabled his former chief of staff to have a more flexible schedule so she could care for her children.
The one part of that comment that was jumped on by social media was the phrase “binders full of women,” and the Internet quickly sunk its teeth into the new meme. Amazon in particular was creative, as users took to writing reviews for an actual Avery-brand binder, offering advice on how to fit women inside.
Liberal groups lambasted the comment as evidence that Romney is vastly out of touch on women’s issues. Maria Cardona, democratic strategist and CNN contributor, argued that Mitt Romney’s story was an attempt to evade the issue of women’s equality altogether.
Other groups questioned the story itself. Representatives of the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus, the women’s advocacy group that actually provided the binders full of candidates, issued a statement saying in effect that Romney’s story was backwards: their organization had first approached both of the Massachusetts gubernatorial candidates to sign a pledge affirming they would work to increase the numbers of women in high-ranking government positions.
In response, Mitt’s former lieutenant governor Kerry Healey acknowledged that the campaign pledge claim was correct, but also affirmed Mitt Romney’s: “… Both of these things happened… The part Governor Romney was talking about was once we got into office and were in transition. That’s when he decided to figure out how he could fulfill his promise, and he reached out to the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus.”
While the comment generated much hilarity online, the whole episode is just another moment of political spin in the campaign season.
Factually, Romney’s statement was more or less accurate. The Washington Post’s fact check gave Romney only two out of four Pinnochios on their scale. “Overall, Romney seems to have embellished the story here, omitting the role of the women’s caucus in the female-hiring initiative. But he still worked with the women’s caucus and appointed lots of women to top-level positions. … the gist of his anecdote isn’t totally off-base.”
Further, contrary to what Ms. Cardona and other liberal critics have claimed, Mitt wasn’t evading the question. Katherine Fenton, the girl who asked the question, specifically asked: “In what new ways do you intend to rectify the inequalities in the workplace, specifically regarding females making only 72 percent of what their male counterparts earn?”
While Mitt didn’t deal with the equal pay half of the question, he did specifically address ways in which he personally had helped women get into higher-level positions in the workplace.
The equal pay issue is much trickier for Romney, as he opposed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act when it was first passed. Many other conservatives do as well — not because they are closeted misogynists, but because the law was poorly written.
CNNMoney reported in 2009 that the bill was written to change the window of time in which a woman can sue over alleged pay discrimination from 180 days after the initial discovery of discrimination to 180 days after every individual paycheck. The risk of a lawsuit for businesses with female employees — even ones that are legally compliant — is much higher as a result, and small- or mid-sized businesses that don’t have the resources to keep meticulous records or absorb high legal fees could be destroyed by just one frivolous lawsuit.
Mitt may have picked words that were kind of ridiculous, and that was his mistake. His overall comment — and position — don’t go against women’s rights as his opponents want to paint it, but the already-successful meme that it produced has effectively satirized his position on women’s issues. Whether Mitt is right or wrong on the issue itself, the meme will stay in our nation’s collective political memory long after the polls have closed.
David Giffin is a second year Masters in Theological Studies student at Candler School of Theology from Charleston, Ill.