By now, I’m sure you’ve all heard, whether you wanted to or not, about Hilary Rosen’s unkind comments about Ann Romney.
Hilary Rosen, a political consultant who advises the Democratic National Committee, questioned on CNN Wednesday night whether Ann Romney understands the economic issues facing women.
“His wife has actually never worked a day in her life,” Rosen said on Anderson Cooper’s AC360 show. “She’s never really dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of the women in this country are facing in terms of how do we feed our kids, how do we send them to school and how do we–why we worry about their future.”
I posted something very brief about this on my Facebook page, which elicited a comment from one of my former students (many of whom are distinguished by the fact that they disagree–often quite vehemently–with me…but that’s a subject for another day). My student–a smart lawyer educated at a very good law school, some of whose professors read this blog from time to time (you know who you are)–suggested that Rosen’s intention–executed extremely gracelessly–was to point to the silver spoons in the mouths of both Romneys.
Perhaps so, but that might seem to be a somewhat odd comment coming from a woman who has had a long career as a Washington lobbyist. From what I can tell, she is a “working mother,” but I suspect that she doesn’t have a lot in common with the vast majority of the women for whom she purports to speak. Now, I’m willing to defend her bona fides in a certain way: it’s one of God’s gifts to us that we’re capable of looking beyond our noses and putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes. A privileged Washington lobbyist can understand the plight of a working mother in Ellicott City. But if that’s true, then Ann Romney can understand and sympathize with what women are telling her on the campaign trail.
But there’s another point worth considering in all this. Leaving aside the manifold ways in which stay-at-home moms are utterly crucial to their families (some of which–to be sure–can be replaced, however imperfectly, with paid labor of one sort or another), there is this: could the many institutions of our civil society continue to function without the tireless efforts of women who don’t regularly participate in the working world? Where would our PTAs be without our stay-at-home moms (and, to be fair, our stay-at-home dads)? How would our parishes and congregations function without the effort and ingenuity of people whose spouses earn enough to enable them to spend their time in a way that doesn’t yield a paycheck? I realize that there are also men and women who work full-time and still give enormous amounts of time to volunteer organizations. (I’m very grateful, for example, for the men who are willing to go camping with my son’s Boy Scout troop.) But I can’t tell you how many organizations I encounter that rely heavily on the efforts of the kind of women Hilary Rosen denigrated.
In sum, what seems to be missing in Rosen’s world (which is divided between home and work) are those “mediating institutions” that make the role of government less necessary. Perhaps a rather telling oversight on her part, no?