Presidential Debate II: What Mitt Romney Really Said About Women

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney smiles as he leaves the stage after the second presidential debate at Hofstra Uni
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney smiles as he leaves the stage after the second presidential debate at Hofstra University, Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012, in Hempstead, N.Y. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Mitt Romney likely thinks he complimented working women during last night's debate.

As Governor of Massachusetts he sought women "that could be qualified" to be in his Cabinet. And he found "binders full of them." He was giving women a break, right?

How do you explain the term "patronizing" to a man like Romney, who is so fond of seeing himself as a businessman? And therein lies the problem. What kind of businessman are we talking about?

Why wouldn't a newly elected governor with business acumen realize that identifying even a handful of qualified women would have been far more impressive than having his aides assemble "binders" full of females? What is a binder of females? Is it the same as a slew of females? In any case, it's insulting.

As a savvy businessman, why doesn't he know that most women in male-dominated careers tired long ago of stories about "how-hard-it-is-to-find-a-good woman-job-candidate-out-there-and-Lord-knows-we've-tried?" Those stories are just as phony today as they were 30 years ago. They tell us women workers aren't good enough at what they do -- not capable of leadership.

Then the Republican presidential candidate ended his response with a story about his female chief of staff who needed to be home by 5 p.m. every night. Who was she supposed to represent? Not many women I know. It was a story about a powerful man doing something for one unusual woman and then thinking it showed how fair he'd be as president to all women. Is that the judgment of a savvy businessman -- a future president?

What Romney didn't do was provide a single sliver of a clue about what he'll do to change the fact that women make in the area of 72 cents for every dollar made by men doing comparable work. About that core wallet issue, he said nothing.

This is an election, Mr. Romney, not a date. Women don't want to feel special. They want to earn a living and feed their families. To influence how workingwomen are going to vote, you would have to talk to them as voters. You would have to lay off the patronizing platitudes and develop an actual awareness of the challenges they face, whether single or married, parents or not.

President Obama, too, went off track on the question after pointing out that the first piece of legislation he signed as president was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. But he got back on track by noting that such issues are determining factors in how women and their families make a living. "These are not just women's issues," he said. "These are family issues. These are economic issues. And one of the things that makes us grow as an economy is when everybody participates and women are getting the same fair deal as men are."

New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie was right about one thing: Love is easy. What women and all voters want is respect. Women want equal pay for equal work. That's respect. They want a fair shot at the top jobs. That's respect. In the absence of that, the rest is all fluff.