Last night’s presidential debate marked the second time that President Obama and Mitt Romney faced off against each other, but the first time that the topics covered focused on issues that pertain to women, who did not get a single mention in the first debate in Denver. Obama has traditionally led female voters, particularly on his policies on contraception and abortion. Last night’s debate seemed to follow that pattern, as Romney made several blunders that served to alienate himself from women and women’s issues:
1) Refusing to speak out in support of equal pay for women. When directly asked a question about pay equity from a member of the audience, Romney dodged the question — just like his campaign has avoided clarifying whether Romney supports specific pieces of legislation like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act or the Paycheck Fairness Act that would address the fact that the average woman in the United States makes just 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man. “If Romney was truly concerned about women in this economy, he’d take a stand against paycheck discrimination. Instead, he has remained silent and refused to speak out for equal pay for women and their families,” Lilly Ledbetter herself said in a statement released after the debate.
2) Falsely claiming he initiated a study to seek “binders full of women” to fill leadership roles in his administration as the governor of Massachusetts. Instead of addressing where he stands on pay equity, Romney responded to the question about closing the pay gap by pointing to the “concerted effort” that he made as governor to seek and hire qualified women for positions in his cabinet, claiming he asked women’s groups to bring him “binders full of women” to help recruit them. Aside from inspiring the biggest meme to come out of last night’s debate, Romney’s story about the binders simply isn’t true. In fact, a bipartisan women’s group formed in 2002 to address the lack of women in government, and compiled research on qualified women for potential cabinet positions before Romney was even elected. They did eventually present Romney with the aforementioned binders, but not because he asked for them.
3) Obscuring his position on providing women with access to contraception. Romney retorted to critiques of his record of women’s health by asserting, “I don’t believe employers should tell someone whether they could have contraceptive care or not. Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives.” That is a stark difference from Romney’s stated support for anti-contraception policies — such as his pledge to repeal Obamacare’s birth control mandate on his first day in office and his support for restrictive legislation like the Blunt Amendment, which would allow employers to deny coverage for birth control for any reason — as well as his intention to defund Planned Parenthood, which provides critical health services like contraception to millions of women. Nonetheless, Romney’s campaign has been especially busy with attempts to obscure his far-right record on women’s health over the past week.
4) Invalidating single mothers, unmarried mothers, and LGBT women. After the candidates were asked a question on gun control, Romney’s response pointed to what he described as the nation’s “violent culture.” As he explained, “We need moms and dads, helping to raise kids. Wherever possible the — the benefit of having two parents in the home, and that’s not always possible. A lot of great single moms, single dads. But gosh to tell our kids that before they have babies, they ought to think about getting married to someone, that’s a great idea.” By touting the supposed peaceful values of traditional families, Romney dealt a blow to any type of family — particularly single mothers, unmarried mothers who had children out of wedlock, or the LGBT-identified mothers who are apparently invisible in Romney’s world — that does not fit his traditional mold. The leap from gun control to the “violent culture” of nontraditional families is a stretch, but Romney has never offered very many details about his gun control policies.
5) Repeatedly steamrolling over the female moderator. Candy Crowley clashed with Romney several times over the terms of the debate and the amount of time that Romney was allotted. Even when Crowley attempted to cut him off by saying, “Okay, okay, thank you, Governor,” Romney barreled ahead with his points. At one point, after Crowley asked Romney to address self-deportation, he simply responded, “No.” Another time, he appeared to be arguing with Crowley over the debate rules as if he knew them better than she did. Romney was not alone in his disregard for Crowley, although he was the more frequent offender; Obama talked over her several times as well. As the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof pointed out, “Since both candidates are trying to convince voters that they respect women, they might start by respecting Candy Crowley.”