The XX Factor

Ann Romney Fumbles the Women in Poverty Question

Ann Romney.
Ann Romney leaves Il Casale restaurant in Belmont, Mass. on Sept. 15, 2012 afer dinner with her husband

Photograph by Nicholas Kamm/AFP/GettyImages.

Mitt Romney’s response to the release of the now-infamous “47 percent” video may, at this point, be doing more damage than damage control. Part of the problem is the campaign doesn’t have a deep bench of sympathetic spokespeople. So they lean heavily on Ann Romney, hoping that her obvious femaleness makes an adequate substitute for empathy. Perhaps they’re running her too ragged, as she seemed tired and off her game in this interview with a Denver news station that the campaign first posted and then swiftly yanked, perhaps realizing that “Mitt doesn’t disdain the poor” doesn’t sound that comforting to the nonmillionaire masses.

In the interview, Romney defends her husband by claiming the quotes sound better in context. (Mother Jones has helpfully provided the full videos and transcript, for those inclined to decide for themselves.) She adds: “He is talking about what’s happening right now in America, and how more and more people are falling into poverty. More, in particular, women, are falling into poverty.” All very true. Women, especially mothers, are more likely to be members of the working poor, and therefore make too little money to pay federal income tax. Which means, by her husband’s accounting, women are more likely to be “dependent on government” and to constantly be making overbearing demands for housing and food. It also means that working mothers with children at home are, in Paul Ryan’s parlance, “the takers” who contribute nothing but simply siphon from the “makers,” such as wealthy Republican donors who live off their investments.

The fact that mothers with dependent children are more likely to be working poor or rely on government assistance doesn’t do much for the Republican claim that these are folks who need to have their help cut off so they can learn the value of a hard day’s work. In reality, women often make less money on the job market in no small part because they have to do so much more unpaid labor on the domestic front, especially when it comes to child-rearing. Single mothers especially are often in a bind where they have to decide between caring for their children and income-earning work. After all, it was Ann Romney herself who recently and indignantly described raising children with these words: “Believe me, it was hard work.” But not, alas, work that brings in income the federal government can then tax. How to square her claim that this untaxable labor is hard work with Romney’s claim that those with untaxable labor cannot be convinced to “take personal responsibility and care for their lives”?