Lilly Ledbetter Goes on the Attack

Fair pay activist winds up crowd in Charlotte.

Women’s rights activist Lilly Ledbetter addresses the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012.

"What a difference four years made," said Lilly Ledbetter shortly after she took the stage at the Democratic National Convention tonight.

She was talking about how laws governing pay equity have changed since she last spoke at a Democratic convention, in 2008, but she may as well have been speaking about how her role at the convention has changed since then.

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In 2008, the former Goodyear tire factory employee from Alabama took to the convention stage to tell the story of her fight against an employer that systematically paid her less than her male counterparts. The first law that President Obama signed upon taking office was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, aimed at helping to end this type of pay disparity. This year, her remarks were more broad-ranging, reaching beyond her own story and promoting the president's agenda (while attacking his opponent).

Ledbetter noted that women earn 77 cents for every dollar that men make, but she pivoted it into an assault on Mitt Romney. "Maybe 23 cents doesn't sound like a lot to someone with a Swiss bank account, Cayman Island investments, and an IRA with tens of millions of dollars," she said.

Aside from that attack, Ledbetter's speech also hit on larger themes that the Obama campaign is working to promote.

She promoted equal pay as being as much about economic growth as it is about fairness. While 23 cents may not sound like much, she said, it can mean a stronger economy. "It's paying your rent this month and paying the mortgage in the future," she said. "It's having savings for the bill you didn't expect and savings for the dignified retirement you've earned."

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And Ledbetter's story naturally fit into a broader theme for Tuesday night's speeches: outreach to women. The convention program for the night contained many clear appeals to women, with the men reaching out to women in their remarks, and a long slate of female speakers including NARAL president Nancy Keenan, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and First Lady Michelle Obama.

"The president signed the bill for his grandmother, whose dreams hit the glass ceiling," said Ledbetter. "And for his daughters, so that theirs never will."

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