I am going to operate on the assumption that I do not need to defend, to this particular crowd, the value of Ann Romney’s life’s work in raising her children, being an attentive and available spouse to her husband, contributing to her church, local schools and community. All of us here know that this is hard, and valuable work. Other people have said enough to defend this work in the last several hours to fill a book, or more.
I would like to consider this Hilary Rosen \ Ann Romney controversy in another light: I think that we can all agree that Ann Romney’s experience as a mother, whether we call it working or not, is not the “typical American experience.” I think that what is being missed here is that Rosen’s comment was a backdoor entry to the tired refrain – The Romeys are rich, super filthy rich, and therefore they don’t understand what it is like to be an American.
Should wealth disqualify someone from politics? Should it matter if that wealth is self made or inherited? George Washington was one of the richest men in America. Frankly, I don’t think the Obamas are sweating the price of their organic vegetables, either.
Should having an a-typical experience disqualify someone from politics? Can we even say that there is a typical American experience? America is extremely diverse, and I think we do ourselves a huge disservice if we list being “like me” as a high qualification for elected office.
What is the role of family in politics? The White House was quick to distance themselves from Rosen by saying that “family is off limits.” I don’t think that is quite the point, because Rosen’s comment was in response to something that Romney himself said about the importance of his wife’s advice and perspective. Now, back when Bill Clinton’s wife was heading up Health Care reform, we were torn, as a nation, about the concept of the “two for one” presidency — some thought it was great to have a president who leaned heavily on his highly capable spouse, while others thought that she had not run or been really vetted for office. Nancy Reagan played it differently, but history is revealing that she had a very strong influence in the Reagan White House. JFK used his brother as a sounding board during a time of military crisis, and I am not sure that the Attorney General would be typically called in to consult on those matters.
Your parents shape you, your spouse and children shape you, your church and pastoral leaders shape you, your experience in wealth or poverty, your level of education, all of these things shape you. If you are broad minded, they shape you in ways that go beyond the things which have actually happened to you or them. I don’t need to have had a parent who worked in a mill to have empathy with those who live in towns which have lost their major industry. I don’t need to be a working, single mother to understand how complicated it must be to try to juggle all of that on my own.
If the real complaint is the Ann Romney is not an appropriate adviser on economic issues relating to women, I think that is probably fair, but it would be true even if she were a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher or a maid. I took Economics 101 at Princeton from Alan Blinder, and my brother took a tax seminar from Harvey Rosen. I might give one of them a call, for a start, to get some good information about how our current system of government and economy impact American families at various levels. Then again, they seem to really love what they do, both the research and the teaching, so some might say they’ve never worked a day in their lives.