It’s odd sometimes how the things you think are going to end up being a big deal aren’t, and the things that end up being a big deal are the ones you wouldn’t have suspected.
This was recently illustrated in the aftermath of the latest debate between President Barack Obama and Lord Mitt Romney, the Earl of Etch A Sketchington, and how a comment by His Lordship made “binders full of women” an Internet sensation.
When asked by a member of the audience how the candidates would deal with the issue of gender inequality in the workplace, in particular pay inequality between men and women, Obama noted that the first bill he signed was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which increases the ability of women to seek recourse against discriminatory pay practices.
He mentioned education, particularly Pell grants, which allow both men and women better access to education. He promised enforcement of anti-discrimination laws.
When it was Lord Mitt’s turn, he began with a recollection of how he’d hired a bunch of women for Cabinet positions when he became governor of Massachusetts:
“Well, gosh,” he said, “can’t we — can’t we find some — some women that are also qualified?” He went on to relate: “I went to a number of women’s groups and said, ‘Can you help us find folks,’ and they brought us whole binders full of women.”
Now, I confess, I didn’t pay much attention to that phrase when Romney said it. It went right by me, probably because I was too busy griping that Romney hadn’t done squat to answer the actual question. But hoo-boy, did some people, mainly women, notice it.
“Minutes after” the fateful phrase was uttered, it was “lighting up Twitter and had already spawned a new website,” according to the L.A. Times. The website mocked Romney’s phrasing in typical online fashion, with references to various other Internet memes and sarcastic pictures.
It didn’t end there. Someone created a Facebook page that immediately garnered more than 200,000 positive votes (“Likes,” in Facebook parlance). USA Today dubbed “binders” its “Obama-Romney Word of the Day.” It seems a lot of people found the image of Mittens paging through “binders full of women” more than a little creepy.
You knew the phrase was really taking hold when conservative pundits started whining that the Obama campaign was “trivializing” the issue by bringing up the words their candidate actually used. Pro tip: When they’re whining, you’re winning.
Then people who were actually around in Massachusetts at the time Romney took office began to speak up, and — surprise! — it turns out that he was playing fast and loose with the truth. Again.
Romney’s former lieutenant governor noted that the “binders” were prepared by a group called the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus, through a program they called MassGAP. In a statement from that group released Wednesday, spokesman Liz Levin noted that Romney hadn’t come to them after the election; they’d come to both him and his opponent, Shannon O’Brien, before the election even took place, and that “both campaigns made a commitment” to work with them on hiring more women.
And while they applauded Romney’s initial commitment, which resulted in women filling “42 percent of the new appointments made by the Romney administration,” they noted that “from 2004-2006 the percentage of newly appointed women in these senior appointed positions dropped to 25 percent.”
But the initial question, and the big issue, wasn’t about whether Romney’s a good guy for perusing “binders full of women” to find candidates for Cabinet posts. It was about gender inequality in the workplace. So what did Lord Romney or his campaign have to say about the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which, as noted above, increases the ability of women to seek redress for income discrimination in the workplace?
Well, according to Romney spokesman Ed Gillespie, Romney opposed the passage of the bill, but would not repeal it.
Then, the very next day, Gillespie performed one of the flip-flops that have become such a regular part of the Romney campaign that no one in the mainstream media even seems to comment on them anymore: Romney, Gillespie told the political blog Talking Points Memo, “never weighed in on [the Act]. As president, he would not seek to repeal it.”
Once again, Mittens displays the breathtaking ability to take up to three positions on a single issue within the space of 24 hours: He doesn’t support it, takes no position on it, but won’t repeal it.
Awkward, out-of-touch, and condescending remarks, lies and shameless flip-flops, followed by whining about what people are quoting what the candidate actually said. Just another day on the campaign trail for His Lordship.