The Beltway Snobbery of Hilary Rosen's Attack on Ann Romney

Obama's "Buffett rule" would hurt the women he to whom is trying to pander.

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This week—in the person of attack pro Hilary Rosen—the Obama campaign tried out what must have struck them as a gambit born of genius. 

Call it the mother of all linkages. 

How do you link Big Campaign Theme No. 1 (class warfare) with Big Campaign Theme No. 2 (the GOP "War Against Women")?  I've got it. Attack Ann Romney for spending her life as a stay-at-home mom.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.]

After all, as Ms. Rosen suggested, only the wife of a millionaire could afford to devote her adult years to raising her children.

In fact, what seemed so clever was merely so Washington.

I live in Washington and have since arriving in 1982 to join the Reagan administration. I married here. We had our son here.

Today my wife has started a new career as a family coach. But from the hour of our boy's birth to the day we dropped him off at college, she was, like Mrs. Romney, a stay-at-home mom.  And in that role, she experienced all too big a dose of what Washington's highly paid professional women—women such as Ms. Rosen—think of women like her.

[Vote: Will the Hilary Rosen-Ann Romney Uproar Matter for the Election?]

After a while, my wife refused to attend receptions. This followed a string of gatherings in which she would start to talk with another woman, a lawyer, a well-placed Hill staffer, a celebrity journalist, or (as Ms. Rosen was once, pulling down as much as seven figures) a trade association executive. These women would chatter to her about their work, then ask, "And what do you do?" My wife would reply that she was a mom. "And?" they would ask.  "I'm a mom." And as my wife tells it, these women would hastily search for some excuse—I need a drink, or where's the lady's room, or I must say hello to so and so before she leaves—and abruptly move on to greener professional conversations.

Less politely, that is just the dismissive attitude Hilary Rosen showed toward Mrs. Romney—throwing in some "I'm of the working class" sanctimony as a kicker.

Except not only is Ms. Rosen as far from working class as the Romneys, or the Obamas for that matter. She and the campaign whose water she was oh, so slyly carrying, have no clue about the lives of ordinary Americans.

[Read Mary Kate Cary: Hilary Rosen Remarks Give Mitt Romney an Opportunity with Women]

For we now learn that two Census Bureau sociologists—Rose Kreider and Diana Elliott—have determined that it is less educated and less affluent women who by and large stay home to take care of their children. Women like Ms. Rosen can command incomes that make it worthwhile on balance to seek employment.

But the wrong headedness with the Obama campaign's linking of income, gender, and their version of fairness does not stop there.

The president himself has been on a tear about the so called "Buffett rule." Everyone who is highly affluent should pay a 30 percent tax rate, he says. It is only fair.

Really?

[Read the U.S. News debate: Do the Rich Pay Their Fair Share in Taxes?]

The low rate that Mr. Romney and Warren Buffett pay is the rate at which we tax capital gains income, 15 percent. If the Buffett rule were to pass, someone like the former Massachusetts governor would, in effect, see his capital gains tax rate double.

Now whom would that hurt? Not the very wealthy, like the president and the governor. They will hold onto their investments, not cash them in, and make future investments in tax-free municipal bonds or something similar.

But as I discovered when I wrote up a study for the Wall Street Journal in 1991, the supply of capital for starting new businesses is highly vulnerable to movements in the capital gains tax rate.  By my calculations, the increase in that tax in the 1986 tax act cost the economy as much as 4.9 million jobs over five years.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

We are now in a deep recession with the lowest labor force participation rate since the mid-1980s, when women were moving massively into the job market. And it is adults without high school educations and women in particular who have lost the vast proportion of jobs since the president took office. We can debate the assigning of blame.

But here are two certainties. First, all of the net new jobs created in the United States since 1980 (per the nonpartisan Kauffman Foundation) have come from companies that were five years old or less. And second, the supply of capital to create and expand those companies is hair-trigger sensitive to movements in the capital gains tax rate. 

Here is another certainty. The true champion of fairness for the 99 percent and particularly women is not the president who keeps trying to pull the tax trigger that would blow away all their hopes.

  • Peter Roff: Obama's Economy and Hilary Rosen Lead the 'War on Women'
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