Politics & Policy

Ann Romney, Everywoman

“Choice” is thrown around in a way that is simply manipulative.

‘Choice” is the word. It’s meant to stop all conversation and all debate. It’s designed to avoid directly addressing topics people don’t really want to talk about. Things such as life, death, children, balance; and the ultimate question: Who am I?

But we girls — and the men caught in the web of relational and political confusion — may just be fed up with such an insulting manipulation.

The “war on women” that the White House, Planned Parenthood, and the Democratic party — but I repeat myself —  insist is being waged by the Republican party or the Catholic Church or the Susan G. Komen Foundationwas exposed as phony when Democratic consultant Hilary Rosen decided to use Ann Romney’s stay-at-home motherhood against her.

Rosen caused a media storm when she suggested that Mrs. Romney “has never actually worked a day in her life.” But something else she said deserves more sunlight: Rosen asked, “Can we just get rid of this word, ‘war on women’?” She claimed that “the Obama campaign does not use it, President Obama does not use it — this is something that the Republicans are accusing people of using, but they’re actually the ones spreading it.”

This is the height of audacity.

Claiming that there is a “war on women” is a favorite fallback strategy of the Left. Democrats bring up such things to scare women into voting for them. (At times, shamefully, it is also used in intra-Republican battles. It’s a cynical divider, so you’ll see it pulled in primaries.)

To pretend that Democrats do not engage in manipulative talk about a war on women is all but to admit that, in politics, words aren’t always meant to have meaning. Their value is in voter mobilization. In this case, the assumption behind the words is that women are wedded to legal abortion and to a government bureaucracy that mandates insurance coverage of contraception, sterilization, and even abortion-inducing drugs. The assumption is insulting, and it caught up to Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections, when, for the first time since the metric has been tracked (1982), they failed to win a majority of women’s votes.

In a perverse way, Rosen’s ridiculous claim about the “war on women” being a GOP delusion gave some credence to her subsequent apology to Ann Romney for insulting not just the wife of the presumptive Republican nominee but all women who have ever chosen to work in the home, raising children.

She didn’t really mean it! It was just another tool to scare women into voting Democrat in November! Don’t hold me to my words. They are but a means to an end. As the president now infamously winked on the international stage: After the election, there will be more “flexibility,” words can have their meanings again, and they’ll let us know what the agenda really is.

Rosen’s comments were cynical and partisan, but way too familiar — it’s all too socially acceptable to say such things about stay-at-home moms. If the GOP hadn’t made such an issue of it – in other words, if this weren’t in the midst of a presidential election — her comment might have come and gone without much comment. We’re living in a culture that expects certain things of a woman — namely, to find fulfillment in a career and never to rely on a man to provide anything at all, from an open door to a life together with her.

Rosen’s comment is worth meditating on not because it’s a Democrat-versus-Republican thing but because it cuts to the heart of who we are as a culture.

Anyone wanting to have a constructive public-policy conversation today should be reading W. Bradford Wilcox, a scholar at the University of Virginia. He’ll point out to you that 74 percent of married mothers working full-time outside the home would prefer not to be away from home so much — or even at all. 

“Adaptive” is a word Wilcox uses in his research analysis to describe about half of American women who approach their work-life decisions in shifts, “according to the needs of their children.” When they have infants and toddlers, they may stay home. When the children are older than that, they may work outside the home on a part- or full-time basis.

So many of us were schooled to be professionals of some sort. We were prepped and we excelled. Our education ignored some of the deepest human longings and biological timetables, but men and women still do meet and fall in love and marry, and the “mommy wars” graphics that the media reached for when the Rosen frenzy hit don’t do justice to the reality of life in America today.

That degreed and résuméd woman doesn’t cease being who she was before she had a baby. Increasingly, we see women doing freelance work or opening a practice with flexible hours, perhaps because within or outside the home there is a need that she is helping to meet. It’s a beautiful, legitimate, healthy choice — one we ought to be affirming instead of dismissing. It is a most unnatural posture that considers fertility a right but its fruits a burden.

When they bypass a real conversation about these issues — and the real things that women want — the chattering class betrays an elitism that misses the poor and working-class families that are more likely to have wives and mothers who work more hours than they would like, and to break up at higher rates. 

We are given choices not by the government but by virtue of our existence. (“Endowed by our Creator” would be a good way of putting it.) Rather than wield the word “choice” as a political and cultural bludgeon, how about acknowledging that government exists to protect the liberty that allows women and men to pursue the choices that are healthiest for the foundational unit of a flourishing society: the family?

Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. This column is available exclusively through United Media.


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