Over-Reporting the "Mommy Wars" and Under-Reporting the Situation

By Becky O'Malley
Friday April 20, 2012 - 03:48:00 PM

The recent brouhaha about a Democratic consultant’s casual comment that Mrs. Romney had never worked a day in her life is a prime example of how desperate the media are for trivia which will let them avoid talking about the real situation in the upcoming election. 

Let’s just get that out of the way first with a brief reality check. A decent argument could be made that the Democrats, with a few exceptions, are jerks, just inept cowardly jerks to be sure, but hardly admirable. My friends who cling to the far left fringe want to dignify these Democrats with conspiracy theories and ringing denunciations, but that’s giving them too much credit.  

The president is a smart guy, probably a nice guy, the kind of person you’d certainly like to invite over for dinner (or the male version, have a beer with) but the kindest thing you can say about him is that he’s been a disappointment to many of us, including me. He’s also a rich guy, relative to most of us, as are all too many of his appointments. 

But. The Republican Party has been taken over by lunatics, certifiable lunatics, at least at the public level represented by the primary debates. The delusional Tea Partyers provide the face of this development. And on the off-camera level, the one that really counts, the party is now controlled by very very rich guys: the Koch brothers, Richard Mellon Scaife, and a few more like them with billions and billions at their disposal to buy elections of all kinds. 

A new documentary film, “Heist:Who Stole the American Dream”, shown last night at the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland, does a good job of outlining the long-term plan, hatched in the early 70s under the auspices of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has got the country into this situation. It’s well worth seeing—there’s a DVD available so you can even watch it at home. It’s not a pretty picture.  

One thing the movie missed, however, is the recent revelations about the operational mechanism for advancing the plan, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which produces templates for state legislatures to enact into laws advancing the conservative agenda. The Trayvon Martin case has highlighted one of their worst products, Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which has been used to justify the killing of an unarmed teenager. 

A common misconception is that the major problem is that the Citizens’ United U.S. Supreme Court decision treats corporations as persons for First Amendment purposes. But we’d be in trouble even without that, since big spending by individuals like the Kochs and Newt Gingrich’s Las Vegas godfather Sheldon Adelson, card-carrying members of the .01% of the very richest Americans, is causing plenty of harm. Some corporations are now withdrawing from ALEC, but the super-rich can still keep it afloat. 

That’s just the back of the envelope sketch. In the next election we have a choice between gullible lunatics and cowardly jerks, both of whom have super-rich friends behind the scenes. Me, I’m going for the jerks, but it’s your choice. 

What is not going on, however, is a war between what the media likes to call “stay at home moms” and “working women”. There’s still a great big gender gap: Women with all kinds of employment situations are much more likely to support Democrats than Republicans, Obama over Romney. Few women of my acquaintance are foolish enough to misunderstand Hilary Rosen’s off-hand remark about Anne Romney.  

Here I must say parenthetically that I greatly dislike the term “moms”—the coy euphemism for mothers beloved of pediatricians. Being a parent is a serious job, one which should not be frivolously undertaken or trivialized by calling mothers—or fathers—by pet names unless you’re one of their offspring. 

These days, it’s rarer and rarer for any parent, male or female, to have only one job. More than half of all mothers now have a day job in addition to parenting, as do the majority of fathers, and most of these are grateful to have paid employment to support their families in this economy. Arlie Hochschild’s 1997 book, The Second Shift, showed that, at least then, mothers did more work in two-parent homes than fathers, but most parents today have some amount of double duty. 

Occasionally some parents, more often mothers, are financially able to concentrate on the job of child-rearing, as Anne Romney was with her five boys (and with considerable household help, no doubt). Some consider themselves lucky to be able to do so, but others enjoy employment outside the home, especially after their children are older, like Nancy Pelosi, another wealthy mother of five (whose kids turned out just fine.) 

Having the choice is a privilege, now all too often the purview of the rich—that’s all that Hilary Rosen was saying, and women in general understood her. Some less-than-affluent parents choose a more modest standard of living so that one of them can pay full attention to the kids, and that’s all right too. Many parents, both single and partnered, can’t afford any choice, and that’s the real problem. 

What this country lacks, what it desperately needs, is adequate social services so that we can be sure that all of our children, regardless of who their parents are or what work their parents do, are well cared for. France provides excellent child care centers and good pre-schools for every child, as well as almost-free medical care—a pattern that is common throughout the developed world but unknown in the United States.  

We’ve known for generations now—since my own children, now parents themselves, were young—that Head Start absolutely works, that it does in fact give children whose parents work too hard to educate them at home a head start in academic achievement that can still be detected when they reach high school. Yet Head Start is perpetually threatened by de-funding. A young mother I know, whose own daughter was a Head Start participant, now works as an aide in the program, and her job has been cut back and back, with involuntary furlough periods which leave parents without childcare for weeks at a time.  

It’s time lazy reporters, many of whom are probably parents themselves, stopped devoting time and space to the non-issue which they like to call the “mommy wars” and concentrate on the real issues which the upcoming election presents. It matters not at all whether the rich Romneys (or the Obamas) are well-fixed enough to be able to afford to have a full time parent at home. What matters is what happens to the hundreds of thousands of American children whose parents, both mothers and fathers, have neither the time nor the money to provide as they’d like for the well-being of the next generation. If the current crop of rabid Republicans has their way, even the modest safety net which now protects these kids will be snatched away from them, and we can’t let that happen.