Ann Romney’s Work

Ann Romney’s Work April 12, 2012

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.

Here is where this ties back in to the themes that are important to us at Building Cathedrals.  I believe that your family has a strong and important role in shaping you as a person.  How Mitt Romney and Barack Obama will think and about and relate to women, what sorts of “women’s issues” they will prioritize, these things are certainly deeply influenced by their experience with their wives, their mothers and their daughters.

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.


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  • Great post! I think you are right on about the criticism really being about the Romney’s wealth. Your comment about the Obama’s and their organic veggies made me chuckle. I always enjoy your insights!

  • Kellie “Red”

    I think you make a lot of very good points here. These sorts of debates always irritate me because our Presidents are always wealthy men and to say that you can’t empathize with someone if you haven’t “been there” is crazy. According to that logic, none of them were qualified to be President.

    I also think that the unfortunate choice of words of Ms. Rosen has been really overblown. It seems that we are just a culture of soundbites, and real debates are often put aside for quick one-liners and slips of the tongue. Sure, what she said was stupid, but everyone is so busy complaining about it that they aren’t really getting at the crux of the debate.

  • Tony

    Why in the world would anyone want a “typical American” to be President? It is hardly a job that a “typical American” could handle. One of the advantages of a monarchy is that you generally know who the next king will be, and you can train the heir from birth so that he has the necessary skills when his time comes to rule. Lacking that ability in this country, the next best thing is to find a person who became exceptional by some other avenue. The closest thing we’ve had to a “typical American” in the White House was Jimmy Carter, and you see how well that turned out.

  • RR

    I don’t think being filthy rich is a disqualifier (and maybe it’s a prerequisite in politics these days) but how a candidate came by his wealth seems like fair game, and so does what he and his family have done with it. Being rich is neutral to me but living ostentatiously is not something i admire.

  • maryalice

    I am sure that many people agree with you, and it is certainly politically tone-deaf, in the midst of a recession, to be making massive improvements to your vacation home.

  • Mark

    Important to remember that the Rosen comment came about as the media has been discussing Romney’s huge problem right now with female voters. Mitt cited Ann as his source for how women voters think about the economy, but she hasn’t really had to navigate the economy in the way that the majority of American women have. So, in this case, being a very wealthy stay-at-home mother in fact does preclude Ann from being a valid source of information for Mitt on what matters to women voters. Layer on top of this the current storm of legislation being passed by Republicans at the state and federal levels, that are, in the words of Republican senator Lisa Murkowski an “attack on women”, and it starts to become more clear why Mitt’s comment feels to many like it is so very out of touch.

  • Kellie “Red”

    I’m not really sure what “storm” of legislation you are talking about? I’m also completely clueless as to what pieces of said legislation are an “attack on women?” And I think you actually emphasize the precise point that MA was trying to make in her post–the primary reason some disqualify Ann Romney from providing a women’s voice on the economy is because she is rich. And if that is the case, no first lady is able to have a voice on the economy because no first lady can personally relate to the economic struggles of women. I think MA did a nice job is showing that this position is a bit ridiculous.

  • ellen

    Why? Is it wrong to employ people in the midst of a recession?