Moms Get Drafted into the 'War on Women'

What could possibly move Ann Romney to start using Twitter? How about an attack on her credentials as a "working" mom?

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What could possibly move Ann Romney to start using Twitter? How about an attack on her credentials as a "working" mom?

It all began last night on Anderson Cooper's night time CNN show when liberal strategist Hilary Rosen criticized Mitt Romney for leaning on his wife, Ann, when it comes to women's economic issues. Romney has previously said that he knows that the issue woman care most about is the economy, because his wife told him so. Rosen, who was formerly the head of the of the hated music lobby group the Recording Industry Association of America, criticized that approach by saying that "His wife has actually never worked a day in her life." That comment opened the door for the Romney camp, which leapt into a lightning fast counter-attack mode that included getting Ann Romney herself to fire off her first (and so far, only) tweet.

Others supporters quickly piled on Rosen accusing her — and by extension President Obama — of attacking stay-at-home moms. The President's advisers quickly tried to distance themselves from Rosen, even though she doesn't work for (and hasn't even given money to) the campaign. Ann Romney's son leapt to her defense. Rosen herself, quickly took to The Huffington Post ...  not to apologize, but to clarify and then reiterate her complaints. And so on....

The entire episode is interesting not for the arguments it raises, but for the ones it obscures. First, it played out with remarkable speed. Rosen's rebuttal to the rebuttal was online barely an hour after Cooper's show went off the air. The Romney campaign's response was so quick and so overwhelming that this mini-news cycle was over before most people knew it happened.

It also immediately drowned out the more substantive point that the discussion was meant to be covering, which was the real economic issues facing women. Romney began the day by hammering on his claim that 92 percent of jobs lost during Obama's presidency belonged to women — a dubious statistic that Cooper began his show by attempting to take apart. But also one built on a truth: that women are struggling in this economy too. While going after Rosen will surely please conservative women, it undercuts the Romney campaign's effort to win over all women, a struggle outlined in at least two major media stories yesterday.

Finally, as more than a few people have pointed out, the one thing that doesn't help women is to have them arguing with each other over who works harder. In this case, it's possible that both Rosen and Ann Romney are right. (Being a stay-at-home is a real job and the fact that Romney could choose to stay home and raise kids is a fortunate one. But neither one qualifies or disqualifies someone from having an informed opinion about something.) Their debate about what work really means distracts from actual policy issues, like the Lilly Ledbetter Act or Wisconsin's equal pay law. Those are two things that, unlike an op-ed, will actually affect real women.

Both sides have now muddied the term "War on Women" so much as to make it almost useless. Instead of fighting over which side is hurting women more, maybe they should talk about who is going to help them the most.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.