The news media insists on extending the flap about Hillary Rosen’s comment that Ann Romney can’t understand the economy and the struggles of most women because Ann has ”never worked a day in her life.” On National Public Radio this morning, Cokie Roberts said that Rosen handed the Romney campaign a gift.
It’s this kind of nonsense that debases political elections. Rosen never should have made the comment but Rosen is a minor player at best and so it never should have become a major story. To think of it as a “gift to Romney” only makes sense if voters are judging the candidates on the off-hand remarks made by minor factotums in the candidate’s party or on the image and track record of their spouses. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that the media wants us to decide elections on these ridiculous factors, at least based on the coverage they give to these flaps as opposed to real discussions of the issues.
One interesting result of this much ado about nothing is that suddenly, Ann Romney has become a symbol of the stay-at-home mom, a dwindling group and one with twice the rate of poverty as moms who work. The latest study I could find (published in 2009) says that only 24% of mothers in families with children under 15 years of age don’t have jobs. And stay-at-home moms tend to be poorer: Just 5.1 %of working moms were below poverty level, while 12.3 % of stay-at-home moms fell into that category.
A few OpEdge readers have insisted in tweets that just because Ann Romney has servants and lived a life of ease does not mean she cannot understand or empathize with the average woman, struggling to make ends meet with or without a job.
Why don’s we begin by considering the question on a theoretical basis: Do you need to have experienced poverty (or racism, the stress of warfare, starvation or other emotional or physical pains) to understand intellectually or feel emotionally the various types of pain felt by those who have experienced these degradations? I used to think one could until I listened to women and African-Americans talking about their feelings of distrust, oppression, lack of confidence, need to prove oneself, or their depictions of barriers that I never saw, but which their fervor and accuracy told me were real. Yes, I understood and sympathized, but I still could not really know their lives and feel their exact feelings.
My experience, however, is anecdotal. I wouldn’t deny anyone else their belief in true empathy towards others with whom one doesn’t have much in common except basic humanity. I yield on the theory.
But let’s forget about the argument over whether or not you can feel another feller’s pain until you walk a mile in his shoes and cut to the chase: The fact that Ann Romney supports her husband’s policies, which cut programs that help poor and working families to fund continued low taxation rates for the wealthy, may not answer the theoretical question about empathy, but it does tell us how much empathy the Romneys, Ann and Mitt, have for the average woman. Zero.