Working Moms, First Ladies and Recalling Hillary Clinton’s ‘Baking Cookies’ Comment

Apr 12, 2012 1:23pm

gty first wives obama romney wy 120412 wblog Working Moms, First Ladies and Recalling Hillary Clintons Baking Cookies Comment

A Democratic strategist’s calling into question Ann Romney’s qualification to talk about economic issues since she was a stay-at-home mom has quickly overtaken the political conversation.

“What you have is Mitt Romney running around the country 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? His wife has actually never worked a day in her life. She’s never really dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of the women in this country are facing in terms of how do we feed our kids, how do we send them to school and how do we – why we worry about their future,” said CNN contributor and Democratic strategist Hillary Rosen Wednesday night.

Ann Romney quickly fired back on Twitter – “I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys. Believe me, it was hard work,” Ann tweeted.

Official Democrats, the Obama administration and the DNC all quickly distanced themselves from Rosen’s comments.

But Rosen, herself a working mother, did not back down.

“I am raising children too. But most young American women HAVE to BOTH earn a living AND raise children. You know that don’t u?” she tweeted at Ann Romney.

There is no issue more sensitive to working mothers than the difficult choice of going back to work after having a child.

Ann Romney was careful to say on Fox News on Thursday morning that both choices should be respected.

Michelle Obama, who had a career as a lawyer before her husband became president, tweeted support for Ann Romney on Thursday.

“Every mother works hard, and every woman deserves to be respected. -mo,” tweeted @MichelleObama

Here is how Michelle Obama described her own balancing act in 2009.

“I personally… know the challenges of leading a busy life at work and at home, trying to do a good job at both — and always feeling like you’re not quite living up to either — and trying not to pit one against the other, really trying to balance it so that — if people here are like me — I call myself a 120-percenter,” she said. “If I’m not doing any job at 120 percent, I think I’m failing.  So if you’re trying to do that at home and at work, you find it very difficult and stressful and frustrating.”

For most women, the choice is made for them by economic necessity. Although it is worth pointing out that Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard law professor and consumer watchdog who is running for senate in Massachusetts – one of the most popular Democrats in the country – wrote a book entitled “The Two Income Trap” about how double income families become more susceptible to bankruptcy.

“One income really doesn’t always cut it anymore,” said Michelle Obama in 2009. “And that’s in my lifetime.  In most families, both parents have to work, and even if people want to make the choice to stay home.  And again, there is no subjective analysis or — of what is better.  But people can’t make the choice.  It’s even harder for single parents, and there are millions of them all across this country who are trying to build a life for themselves and their children, and they find in an economy that’s tough that they’re not just holding down one but they need a couple of jobs just to make ends meet.”

“I’ve always been, and will probably always be in some way shape or form, a working mom,” she said in 2008.

The White House and the Obama campaign have since made a decision to make Michelle Obama’s public persona more mom than working mom. She focuses her time on the “Let’s Move” campaign to combat childhood obesity.

With that public persona, Michelle Obama has a remarkably solid public approval rating, 65 percent, according to a Marist poll released today, much higher than her husband’s.

Hillary Clinton took a much different path. She was actively involved in policy and the health care reform effort for her husband. And she came under fire in 1992 for stridently defending her own career, saying on 60 Minutes in 1992 that she wouldn’t be “some little woman standing by my husband like Tammy Wynette.”

“I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was fulfill my profession, which I entered before my husband was in public life,” she said at another point.

Hillary Clinton’s 1992 campaign comments made her one of the most divisive women in the country as first lady. But they also paved the way for her to become a senator in her own right and later Secretary of State. As a public official, after Bill Clinton left office, Hillary Clinton has become the most admired American woman, according to Gallup, for years.

It is remarkable that 25 years after Clinton’s “cookie” remarks, the issue of the role of women in the workplace and home is as raw and polarizing as ever. At the end of the day, while the issue of women’s roles in society have evolved, the role of the first lady does remain trapped in stereotypes that are tougher to break.

But there is also the important point that neither Michelle Obama nor Ann Romney are really stay-at-home moms. Not right now, even though both women have, or had, the luxury of being able to afford to send their children to private schools and have hired help.

“I used to get up in the morning and go to an office. Now I get up and go to a plane, stand in front of thousands of people. My kids still don’t care where I am. They’ve always known two parents to work in the household and as long as we’re back in time for bedtime, they could care less where we are,” said Michelle Obama in 2008.

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