Thursday the president, the vice president, the first lady, and the senior leadership of the Obama campaign all lowered the boom on Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen, after she criticized Anne Romney for not having worked "a day in her life" and yet offering her husband advice on women's economic concerns. The fact that senior Democrats reacted so quickly shows how volatile they know the women's vote is. I'd be willing to bet that after this week's events, Mitt Romney's 19-point gender gap with women has narrowed.
Democratic leaders reacted so quickly because they know that these days, no one should be criticizing the choices women make about raising their kids. Like many women, I've tried all kinds of ways to make it work: I've worked in an office full time, I've been home full time with the kids, I've worked part time from an office in my house. For some families—one of my sisters, for example—it works better for everyone if the dad stays home. Women have found all kinds of ways to make it work.
Two weeks ago, Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe said that the contraception issue was a "retro" debate. This seems even more retro to me, a fight that ended when bell bottoms and tie dye went out of style. Times have changed, and to criticize anyone's choices in terms of work-life balance, as Hilary Rosen did, comes across as intolerant, disrespectful, and divisive.
But it does present a terrific opportunity for former Gov. Mitt Romney to talk about creating the kind of economic growth that allows all women to be able to afford the same choices that both Hilary Rosen and Anne Romney have had—both mothers, by the way, who made different choices. There are plenty of women who would love to stay home with their children, but can't afford to go without the paycheck. And there are plenty of women who would love to take a full-time job but can't afford quality child care—the cost of which would make the paycheck a wash. If Romney can talk about creating the kind of "opportunity economy" that allows all women be able to afford to make the best choices for their family, he'd be in fine shape.
Romney also needs to talk about how to get the millions of women who have lost their jobs during this recession back into the workforce as quickly as possible. He can also highlight the fact that millions of small business owners are women—so many of the women I know who stay at home have small businesses on the side, either as consultants, brokers, or even retailers. Proposing to cut the red tape and taxes that are holding back small business owners—and by extension, many women—would be a winner for Romney. Most importantly, he should emphasize that he supports equal pay for women. Most of us believe "a rising tide lifts all boats"—and Mitt Romney should say that women's boats deserve to be as least as big as the men's boats.