WASHINGTON -- The march by Barack Obama and Mitt Romney toward the fall election is likely to focus as never before on a portion of the electorate too long taken for granted: women. Unless Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, can make up a significant portion of the 20 percent gap between him and the president among female voters, his chances of winning in November are considerably diminished.
Women now make up 51 percent of the nation's citizens, and their impact in every endeavor has grown exponentially despite the glass ceiling that men have imposed in certain professions like politics. Hillary Rodham Clinton was a victim of that barrier when she lost the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination to Obama, oddly enough through a significant defection in the sisterhood.
But that was before Republicans like former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania decided to make female control of their own reproductive system and other similar matters a central campaign issue, leaving a distinctive anti-women image for GOP candidates everywhere to resolve. That task was given at least a temporary boost by an obscure Obama supporter, Hilary Rosen, whose ill-timed remarks about the hard work involved in raising children went viral on the Internet, radio, television and in newspapers.
Contending that Ann Romney -- the candidate's wife who was a stay-at-home mom supervising the upbringing of five sons -- had never worked a day in her life even sent first lady Michelle Obama to the Twitter machine to distance herself from that insensitivity. Rosen's offending millions of American mothers -- even if she meant to say something entirely different, as she claimed -- isn't a terribly good way to kick off the campaign debate. Her 15 minutes of fame turned into an embarrassment for the White House.
Anyone who has gone through the experience of raising children can tell you just how hard that work really is -- especially when balancing it with making ends meet, which untold mothers do successfully. But mothers fortunate enough not to have to have a job outside the home unless they want to still have stress, even when they can afford help, as Ann Romney obviously could. Keeping one's thumb on five healthy, active boys can be an exhausting task.
Having watched my wife manage four children full time -- three of them big, rowdy boys and a girl who, thankfully, brought some sanity into the daily routine -- I can attest to the difficulty. I like to think I helped a lot, but I'm not kidding myself. At the end of the day, it was that chief cook and bottle washer, chauffeur and disciplinarian and setter of moral standards they had better not ignore, arbiter and friend -- and loving "enemy," when necessary -- who deserves the credit. She and her kin are the most important CEOs in America.
The pride in raising good, law-abiding, caring citizens can be enormously sustaining.
From all the evidence, Ann Romney's success at this is well established. It is too easy to imply that she had the wherewithal to make it much easier, as if that somehow tarnished her motherly image. Having money and the ability to hire surrogates to help, if in fact she did, didn't relieve her of the responsibility of good management. The results clearly testify to her role as a loving, caring parent.
As political misstatements go, Rosen's under normal circumstances might have been missed, but in this day of hyper communication it could be a lasting faux pas -- one that opened the door for Romney strategists desperately seeking some way to overcome an image of Republican anti feminism that in the end could be their candidate's undoing. Ann Romney has been tapped as a crucial player in that effort, and from all indication she is a worthy choice.
Having nailed down the nomination, it probably behooves Romney to put the social issues like birth control in their proper perspective and assure women he has no intention of telling them how they should treat their own bodies. The conservatives so intent on defeating Obama should take a vow of silence on these issues. They won't, of course.
Email Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at email@example.com.