Longtime Democratic and lesbian activist Hilary Rosen was in the proverbial political hotseat this week over a critique she offered Wednesday night regarding Republican presidential nominee-apparent Mitt Romney.
Rosen was appearing on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 and discussing Romney’s recent remarks aimed at winning female support by claiming that President Obama’s economic policies have been harder on women.
Rosen said Romney was right to put the focus on economic issues when it comes to female voters, but she then tried to explain why she thinks Romney is “old-fashioned when it comes to women” and doesn’t see women as equals.”
“What you have is Mitt Romney running around the country and saying, ‘Well, you know, my wife tells me that what women really care about are economic issues, and when I listen to my wife, that’s what I’m hearing.’
“Guess what,” said Rosen, “his wife has never actually worked a day in her life. She’s never really dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of women in this country are facing in terms of how do we feed our kids, how do we send them to school, and how we worry about their future.”
Rosen said more, but that one phrase—that Ann Romney’s “never actually worked a day in her life”— is all it took to trigger a counterattack from the Romney campaign and a massive pile on from the media and even the White House itself.
First, Ann Romney launched a Twitter account (@AnnDRomney) on Wednesday night, just to respond to Rosen’s barb. Her first Tweet, at approximately 10 p.m., was, “I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys Believe me it was hard work.” Her second Tweet, at about 9 a.m Thursday morning: “I’ll be with @marthamaccallum this morning at 10:40 discussing Hilary Rosen’s comments. All moms are entitled to choose their path.”
Rosen, a mom with a job outside the home, tried to make clear that she didn’t mean to attack Ann Romney but rather to comment on candidate Romney’s recent remark: “My wife has the occasion, as you know, to campaign on her own and also with me, and she reports to me regularly that the issue women care about most is the economy.”
On the Cooper show, Rosen said that comment makes Romney seem “old-fashioned when it comes to women and I think that comes across and I think that’s going to hurt him over the long run because he doesn’t really see us as equals.”
But the heat from her “never actually worked a day in her life” barb had already ignited the political flash fire. Rosen was quickly under heavy attack —especially from high places in the Obama camp.
Prominent Obama adviser David Axelrod posted a Tweet right after the Cooper program, saying “Also Disappointed in Hilary Rosen’s comments about Ann Romney. They were inappropriate and offensive.” And Obama campaign manager Jim Messina added his own Tweet: “I could not disagree with Hilary Rosen any more strongly. Her comments were wrong and family should be off limits. She should apologize.” DNC Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz Tweeted: “Disappointed in @hilaryr’s comments. As a mother of 3 there’s no doubt that raising children is work.”
On Thursday at noon, First Lady Michelle Obama jumped in with a Tweet, “Every mother works hard, and every woman deserves to be respected. –MO”
Then came responses to Michelle Obama’s Tweet, such as “Hard work managing those 24 servants of yours, MO??”
Conservative Fox News political anchor Greta Van Susteren said Rosen’s comments were being “weaponized by her political opponents.”
“That IS part of Washington,” said Van Susteren. “Everything you say can become a WMD. Both parties do it to each other. It can be wicked.”
“I did not read Hilary’s comments to in anyway take away from the hard chore of raising children or staying at home and raising them and not working outside the family,” blogged Van Susteren. “I read it to mean that raising children without financial pressure is easier than having financial pressure.”
Republican Rep. Cathy Rodgers of Washington State went on MSNBC to attack Rosen. She said Rosen’s comment was the Democratic Party’s “manufactured war on women” going “too far.”
But even Ann Romney felt the heat. One person remarked on her Twitter site that “Far too many of us did NOT get to choose our path & even fewer w/have that option in the world your husband wants to recreate.” Another posted “not all moms find themselves in the same economic circumstance to make the same choices as you did.”
By Thursday evening, just 24 hours later, Rosen issued a formal apology: “I apologize to Ann Romney and anyone else who was offended. Let’s declare peace in this phony war [on women] and go back to focus on the substance.”
It’s hard to say how the Rosen comment will affect her own career as a progressive political commentator; certainly, many conservative pundits gain greater attention by making controversial remarks and few apologize for any offense they might inflict. But the fact that Democratic Party officials, including President Obama, postured themselves so quickly and strongly against Rosen’s remark could cut into Rosen’s influence inside the party.
Axelrod, on CNN with John King Thursday night, sounded like Rosen’s apology had resolved the “contretemps” and he took a jab at the Romney campaign for having “jumped on it like a raft in the deep blue sea because they were drowning under the weight of their own problems.”
King pressed Axelrod why he and other Obama colleagues jumped “so fast to trash somebody who is a trusted ally of this White House who has been out there defending the president quite a bit.” Axelrod tried to deflect the question in part by noting that Rosen was an employee of CNN, “not ours” but he did acknowledge Rosen as a supporter of the president.
“We have an obligation to speak out not just when people say things that are inappropriate who they’re on the other side of the aisle, but when people who are on our side of the aisle, our friends, speak out. And Hilary herself has acknowledged that she misspoke and she said something that she regretted saying in the way that she said it, and I accept that.”