The Rosen / Romney matter

UPDATE, April 14: I’ve now looked at more columns on the Rosen / Romney issue, and it appears that, contrary to the first paragraph of the entry, conservatives were criticizing Rosen for attacking stay-at-home mothers, not just for insulting Ann Romney. However, it remains the case that the Republican side is terribly confused and compromised on this issue. They are unable to oppose the Democrats in a clear and consistent way, because their own guiding principle is not that it is good for a woman to stay home to care for her children, but that women should be able to choose whatever they want to do. In other words, Republicans are extolling the liberal principle of freedom as their highest principle, not the traditionalist conservative principle of the human and social good.

Another problem is that notwithstanding both sides’ support of women’s “choice,” real choice in our society does not exist. As the invaluable Laura Wood points out, women in our society are trained and prepared through their entire childhood and school years not to be full-time housewives like Ann Romney, but to have jobs and careers. Having a career is everywhere promoted as a positive good, a good further enforced by anti-discrimination legislation which punishes employers for not having an “equal” number of female employees, even in jobs such as long-distance truck driving. At the same time, being a full-time housewife is never promoted as a positive good. It is purely a private choice, a choice which, if a woman is so bold as to make it, she makes with zero moral and material support from the larger society.

Republicans embrace the idea that women, including married women with children, should work; as Laura points out, there is not a single male Republican politician in the U.S. who says that it’s good for women to stay home with their children. The Republicans are thus so bound up with liberal and feminist notions that they lack any substantive, conservative basis on which to oppose Hilary Rosen’s aggressive brand of feminism. They have only a liberal or libertarian basis: women should be free to choose. Even Ann Romney, the ultimate old-fashioned wife and mother, in defending herself from Rosen’s attack, declined to justify her life’s course on the grounds that it was good that she had stayed home to raise her sons; she offered only a libertarian justification: that staying home was what she chose to do.

I had not had any thoughts about the uproar over Democratic functionary Hilary Rosen’s insulting remark about Ann Romney, except to wonder why this was such a huge deal; over the last day or two I’ve seen more articles listed at about this one controversy than I think I’ve ever seen about any single controversy ever. A person we’ve never heard of says something nasty about a presidential candidate’s wife, and we’re supposed to think it’s the most important thing in the world? Why should anyone care? Is Ann Romney sacred? That’s certainly the impression you get from the impassioned denunciations of Rosen. Now Matt Lewis at the Daily Caller has articulated my unformed ideas: he says that this is about manufactured Republican outrage and victimology for the sake of partisan gain, not about anything real.

I would add that Rosen’s remark is significant, insofar as it shows clearly what leftist feminists of the Betty Friedan school have always believed: contrary to their assertions, they do not think that a woman should be able to choose whether to be a full-time housewife or to have a career, they think that a woman must not be a full-time housewife, period. They think that only what a woman does as an individual in pursuit of her self-autonomy has any human value, and that to be a traditional housewife and mother is a debased and worthless existence. That’s the real meaning of what Rosen said, and it could have led to a worthwhile debate about feminism. But the Republicans, those sub-conceptual beings, have reduced the issue to some supposedly horrible insult to the sacred person of Ann Romney.

However, as Laura Wood, The Thinking Housewife, points out, Mitt Romney himself is unable to reply effectively to the attack on his wife, because he himself “believes that the most important thing for women is having their own jobs.” Therefore, how can he tolerate his wife being a full-time housewife? “Romney, because he believes the economy is all, cannot offer a meaningful response” to Rosen.

So there’s another reason why Republicans are failing to debate the Democrats on substance. It’s not just that they seek partisan advantage from Rosen’s faux pas; it’s that they share Rosen’s belief about what women should be doing with their lives. Remember their white-hot rage in 2008 at the idea that Sarah Palin, a mother of five with a special-needs infant, should not be running for national office. “How DARE they, how DARE they suggest that there should be any limit on what a woman can do with her life?” steamed the bullying Rudolph Giuliani from the podium of the Republican convention that year, while several feminist “conservatives,” including Michelle Malkin, posted an angry, in-your-face, Seventies-style video saying that the idea that Palin could not both care properly for her children and occupy national office was an attack on women. To say there there is NO maternal responsibility, no matter how pressing, that should stand in the way of ANY job or career path, no matter how demanding, is to say that the importance of a women’s career far transcends her role as mother, which is essentially what Hilary Rosen has said.

- end of initial entry -

Brandon F. writes:

I was disappointed when I read the first paragraph of this post only to be relieved to read the second. Your impression of the Betty Friedan types was exactly mine when I heard what Rosen said. I assumed that is what most Republican critics meant as well. That the statement was something against women who choose to stay at home and raise a family. Certainly some are using it as a “Michelle vs. Ann” moment, but that is secondary. It should be a big deal with regard to Rosen’s statement and it should be clarified why it is a big deal by intellectual bloggers and the like.

Ken Hechtman writes:

Synchronicity Department:

I just recently read a couple of things about Betty Friedan that I hadn’t known before but if you take them together they explain a lot. She was a superbright, IQ-tested at 180 when she was a young girl. She would later go to great lengths to hide this next part of her personal history, but she was also a Party member from her teens on.

Do you see it now? She holds “From each according to his ability” as her first article of faith. And she herself has more ability than anyone she knows and she’s always been aware of it, as long as she can remember. The rest of her thought and career just follow logically from that starting point. Since life as a middle-class suburban housewife would feel like a prison sentence to her, she figured it must also feel that way to every other right-thinking suburban housewife.

LA replies:

And that’s the way Jews are. at least liberal Jews. Their thinking is wholly narcissistic and self-centered. They think everyone is like them. They think that because they are very smart and are doctors and lawyers, therefore blacks must be equally smart and can be doctors and lawyers in the same proportion as Jews. They think that because they can negotiate our contemporary sexually liberated and morally chaotic environment and still have successful and functioning lives, therefore blacks should be able to negotiate the same morally chaotic environment and have successful and functioning lives. They think that because they were assimilated (more or less) into America, therefore any group, no matter how alien and hostile to the West, can also be assimilated into America, and that to suggest that, e.g., Muslims cannot successfully assimilate, is to say that the Jews themselves cannot assimilate. Thus to restrict Muslim and non-Western immigration would be an attack on the Jews. With liberal and neocon Jews, it’s all about themselves.

Ken Hechtman writes:

Fair point. left-wing Jews, even the smart ones, maybe especially the smart ones, really do have that blind spot.

Getting a bit off-topic, but this is my source for Betty Friedan’s biographical details.

The course is called “American Identity.” If there were truth-in-labeling, it would be called “New York Jewish Socialist and Communist Identity.” Besides Betty Friedan, some of the other biographies are of Samuel Gompers, Emma Goldman, Abraham Cahan, Harry Houdini, and Leonard Bernstein.

Even I didn’t realize just how much of modern America came about as a result of various left-wing New York Jews carving out a set of places perfectly fitted to themselves. Immigration policy might be an obvious example but it’s far from the only one.

PDT writes:

As a Jew who moved up the socio-economic food chain (from lower middle class to a peer of those doctors and lawyers) I’ll offer up my experiences as a counterexample to your claims. What Jews say in public (regarding blacks) and how they act, are completely different things. Jews who support affirmative action do so because they believe that the spots that go to blacks (or other preferential minorities) will not come at their expense. Jews also tend to avoid the public sector, or any place where affirmative action would directly effect them. Any (apparent) support is merely for political reasons. In a way, the two communities are polar opposites of each other. Everything that Jews embrace (education, marriage, charitable giving), blacks reject and vice-versa. Jews might want to see more blacks succeed in various arenas (think IWSB), but none of them think they “must be equally smart”. Succinctly, Jews are liberal in spite of blacks.

LA replies:

Long time readers will know that I am going to disagree with your argument. In political terms, it doesn’t matter what people “really” think privately. What matters politically is what people state publicly, the positions they publicly take.

April 14

LA writes:

As evidence of the fact that feminists, notwithstanding their protestations, do not really believe in choice, but want all women to pursue careers at the expense of raising families, a commenter at The Thinking Housewife writes:

I received the strongest criticism and disapproval from my feminist professors (many of whom I really admire and learned a lot from. One in particular was my favorite academic “mentor”). I “fell” pregnant two months into grad school, three months after my wedding and received numerous rude comments, even before announcing I would probably not return. My experience with feminists was anything but “whatever you want to do, you go girl!” It was rather, establish a career and a name for yourself and financial independence (from a man who loves you, anyway; no protest about being enslaved to student loans), THEN have a family if you want and stay at home. The latter was always subordinate to the former.

April 15

Jim Kalb writes:

In reply to your Update, you can’t fight “choice” at the level of ordinary politics today. The principle goes too deep. Still, Ann Romney and the Republicans could have said something like this:

“Hilary Rosen thinks that being a political operative is a good choice and being a stay-at-home mom is a bad choice. She thinks that a Washington political operative knows about the problems of ordinary people and a stay-at-home mom doesn’t. We think she’s out of her mind.”

That would particularize the situation and make a common-sense judgment of better and worse seem natural, even today.

Jim Kalb continues:

When I said you can’t fight “choice” at the level of ordinary politics today, I meant you can’t fight it head-on and in general. Hence the value of particularizing and framing the situation so it becomes harder to keep common-sense judgments of good and bad out of the discussion. The left particularizes and frames issues, and the right should do it as well. When enough conflicting instances have come up general principles will be easier to discuss.

LA replies:

Very interesting.

It would appear that conceptual thinkers are needed to instruct Republicans how to make effective non-conceptual arguments in the public sphere!

Posted by Lawrence Auster at April 13, 2012 04:44 PM | Send

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