Ann Romney plays the aggrieved mother to milk the moment

Mon, Apr 23, 2012, 01:00

OPINION:ANN ROMNEY is a good mom.

She’s also a good pol.

And though her people skills are far superior to Mitt’s, it turns out that Ann is just as capable as her husband of turning an advantage into a disadvantage.

After the liberal strategist Hilary Rosen clumsily mocked Mitt Romney for relying on Ann to tell him what issues women care about when “his wife has actually never worked a day in her life,” Ann smashed that lob back.

Blasting out her first tweet, she said: “I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys. Believe me, it was hard work.” Shaken Democrats dived for cover and threw Rosen under the campaign bus.

The media, worried about being perceived as favouring Barack Obama, jumped in on the side of the maligned Ann. She pressed her advantage, scolding Rosen on Fox News. “She should have come to my house when those five boys were causing so much trouble,” Ann said. She alluded to her brave battles against breast cancer and multiple sclerosis: “Look, I know what it’s like to struggle.”

But at a fundraiser at a private home in Palm Beach, Florida, last week, just before her 63rd birthday, Ann made it clear that she wasn’t really aggrieved. She was feigning aggrievement to milk the moment.

“It was my early birthday present for someone to be critical of me as a mother, and that was really a defining moment, and I loved it,” a gleeful Ann told the backyard full of Florida fat cats, sounding “like a political tactician”, as Garrett Haake, the NBC reporter on the scene, put it.

It’s important when you act the martyr not to overplay your hand. If you admit out loud to a bunch of people – including Haake, who was on the sidewalk enterprisingly eavesdropping – that you’re just pretending to be offended, you risk looking phoney, like your husband. (It also doesn’t fly to tell Diane Sawyer that your dog “loved” 12 hours in a crate on top of the car or that it’s “our turn” to be in the White House.)

The candidate, meanwhile, continued to look phoney by presenting a completely different side of himself to the wealthy Palm Beach donors who came in fancy cars to eat snapper and hear a snappier Mitt.

Rather than making bland pronouncements or parsing patriotic songs, as he usually does, Mitt gave a more specific vision of a Romney White House, including the possible elimination of the department of housing and urban development, which his dad once led, and vivisecting the department of education. He also talked about ways he might close tax loopholes for the affluent – another matter he hasn’t been too detailed about – to pay for his cuts in tax rates.

Mitt offered a different view of the value of working parents in January when he talked about how he changed welfare rules as governor of Massachusetts: “I said, for instance, that even if you have a child two years of age, you need to go to work. And people said, well, that’s heartless. And I said, no, no, I’m willing to spend more giving day care to allow those parents to go back to work. It will cost the state more providing that day care, but I want the individuals to have the dignity of work.” So the dignity of work only applies to poor moms?

This latest kerfuffle is piffle, but it is another instance of Republicans dragging women back to the past to relitigate issues they thought were long settled.

Just as women had assumed their contraception rights were safe, they had considered the tiresome debate about working moms versus stay-at-home moms over. My mom stayed home to raise five kids, and she is my feminist role model.

For the most part, nobody’s casting aspersions on anybody else’s choices, which are often driven by economics. Women have so many choices that they’re overwhelmed by the stress of so many choices.

The real issue is whether Mitt, a tycoon who has been swathed in an old-fashioned cocoon, understands the plight of working mothers and the rights of 21st-century women.

When the Romneys got married and moved to Boston in 1971 so Mitt could attend Harvard, they set up house in a suburb, befriended other young Mormon couples and kept to their cloistered, conservative, privileged, traditional, white, heterosexual circle.

Campuses were roiling with change – feminism, civil rights, anti-war demonstrations – but the Romneys were not part of that. They were throwbacks.

“The parental roles were clear,” Michael Kranish and Scott Helman write in The Real Romney. “Mitt would have the career, and Ann would run the house.” We will see if these affluent, soon-to-be owners of a car elevator in La Jolla, California, and members of the horsey set can relate to the economic problems of regular people.

Given how secretive and shape-shifting Mitt Romney is, we’ll probably have to keep eavesdropping to find out.