Share this article

print logo

Privilege and motherhood

Hilary Rosen made a legitimate point the wrong way.

Rosen -- a Democratic activist, CNN commentator and, full disclosure, friend of mine -- was talking about Mitt Romney's move to deploy his wife as official ambassador to the land of women.

"Guess what?" Rosen said. "His wife has actually never worked a day in her life. She's never really dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of the women in this country are facing."

Awoogah. Awoogah. Repeat after me: The acceptable formulation is "work outside the home."

As Rosen, mother of two, well knows -- and was reminded with Twitter speed Wednesday night -- staying at home with the kids is the very definition of hard work. A day at the office, with no sticky little hands tugging at you, can feel like a vacation.

And Ann Romney, as she reminded us in the campaign video that touched off Rosen's comments, stayed home with five boys. Six, she said, if you count Mitt. "Believe me, it was hard work," Ann retorted in her first-ever tweet.

But Rosen's fundamental point -- that Ann Romney's experience is far from typical, that she has not grappled with the economic and family issues that face many women today -- remains true.

You don't have to be a combatant on either side of the Mommy Wars to recognize that Ann Romney's privileged life experience is not typical. She's never had to worry about the price of a gallon of gas as she filled up the Cadillacs. She is at the tail end of a generation that did not agonize over the choice of whether to stay home with the kids, and she had the financial means to make that choice.

As Rosen wrote later on the Huffington Post, "Nothing in Ann Romney's history as we have heard it -- hardworking mom she may have been -- leads me to believe that Mitt has chosen the right expert to get feedback on this problem he professes to be so concerned about."

In some ways, the most interesting aspect of Rosen's comments was the swiftness with which the Obama campaign moved to criticize them -- this after Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom quickly posted a link to video of Rosen's remarks and incorrectly described her as an "Obama adviser."

Actual Obama adviser David Axelrod pronounced himself "disappointed" in Rosen and termed her remarks "inappropriate and offensive." Actual Obama campaign manager Jim Messina out-tweeted him: "I could not disagree with Hilary Rosen any more strongly." Really? I can think of a lot of things that I'd disagree with more strongly. Messina added: "Her comments were wrong and family should be off-limits."

Again, really? When a candidate enlists his wife for video testimonials, when he repeatedly punts to her on questions about What Women Want, it seems to me that she is decidedly on-limits.

Rosen erred in her seemingly dismissive phraseology, not in talking about the candidate's wife. Romney opened the door to that.