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Two Hillaries, one error: The reason snarking on stay-at-home moms is bad for Democrats

Democratic strategist and DNC consultant (and one of the minds behind the DMCA and Napster and Grokster lawsuits during her time as the head of the Recording Industry Association of America) Hilary Rosen had some harsh words for former Gov. Mitt Romney’s (R-MA) wife Ann on “Anderson Cooper 360″ last night. In response to Mitt Romney’s assertion that his wife helps him understand women’s struggles in America, Rosen said: “Guess what, his wife has actually never worked a day in her life.”

In the Democrats’ efforts to paint the War on Women as solely a Republican effort, it was the equivalent of a friendly fire incident. Not only is Ann Romney the reasonably popular spouse and a sympathetic stay-at-home mother who raised five children and lives with multiple sclerosis, but she’s also a woman. And by suggesting that her choice to raise her kids rather than take outside employment wasn’t “work” and that her choice disqualified her from participation in conversations about women’s lives in America, it’s hard to figure out which women — feminists or conservatives — Rosen’s comments wouldn’t offend.

It’s not as though Rosen couldn’t know she was stepping in a shit pile — it had a massive footprint already in it. Almost exactly 20 years ago — when Rosen was already at the RIAA — Hillary Clinton, then the wife of Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton, answered charges that she was too much of a working woman to make a traditional First Lady by saying, “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession which I entered before my husband was in public life.” It was widely viewed as a slam on stay-at-home mothers and then-First Lady Barbara Bush in particular, and stuck with Clinton through her 2000 Senate campaign and her 2008 Presidential campaign just like dog shit on a porous leather-soled shoe.

Rosen’s ill-considered salvo at Ann Romney’s life choices ignited a predictable firestorm among conservatives and feminists alike. Feminists pointed out the decades-long struggle among liberal women to force society to value women’s work in the home as legitimate (and to encourage the government to do the same in terms of things like Social Security and access to welfare programs). Conservatives got to, once again, accuse liberals and feminists of “hating” women who choose not to work in favor of raising their kids — which is more aspirational than economically do-able for many families in America, but that has yet to stop some of the non-rich from opposing taxes on the rich — and underscore Mitt Romney’s assertion that the “real” aggressor in the War on Women is the Obama Administration.

And it gave Ann Romney a magnificent platform to talk about her own personal struggles and reiterate what “hard work” it is to raise children. It forced Obama’s campaign staff to distance themselves from the remark, and turned the news cycle on the anniversary of the passage of Romney’s own health care reform into a day-long mommy-war extravaganza.

Rosen’s comments were more political strategery than strategy. And her response on the Huffington Post just adds fuel to the fire. Rather than leading off with an explanation than the Romneys’ wealth and not her stay-at-home status were at the core of her ill-considered remark, Rosen first indulges in a little pity-party (“Oh my, you should read the tweets and the hate mail I got after that”), then slams Republicans who “view the issue of women’s rights and advancement as a way to score political points” (what was Rosen doing, exactly, by appearing in a segment about the GOP’s “War on Women” and slamming Ann Romney’s stay-at-home history?) before even getting into the part where she claims — a bit late — that she has “no judgements about women who work outside the home vs. women who work in the home raising a family.” Only then does Rosen pivot to decry Ann Romney’s position as an “expert” on what women with whom she’s spoken on the campaign trail care about — a limited sample, to be sure, but still a sample — and then Romney’s time at Bain Capital (where senior female staff were reasonably hard to find) and a comment that, in 1994, it was hard to find qualified women for those positions. And, outside of a passing reference to women’s health care issues, that’s the sum total of her written explanation, though she told Politico that she was disappointed that Ann Romney didn’t reply to her Tweet about many American mothers having to work.

She — and the Democrats she purports to represent — would’ve been far better off politically if Rosen had just straight-up apologized for insulting Ann Romney (and, by extension, a whole raft of stay-at-home mothers), turned off her Twitter feed for a couple of days and taken her lumps for saying something stupid on television. Instead, her comments are now the conversation, and in the echo chamber, they’re drowning out everything she claims she was trying to say about the Romney’s privileged lives.

UPDATE: Rosen apologized… for offending Ann Romney. Eric Randall of the Atlantic Wire noted: “Rest assured that the ‘I apologize if you were offended’ approach rarely, if ever, quells the offended parties, and it certainly doesn’t when you characterize their offense as a ‘phony war.’”

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Written by | Megan Carpentier

Megan Carpentier is the executive editor of Raw Story. She previously served as an associate editor at Talking Points Memo; the editor of news and politics at Air America; an editor at Jezebel.com; and an associate editor at Wonkette. Her published works include pieces for the Washington Post, the Washington Independent, Ms Magazine, RH Reality Check, the Women's Media Center, On the Issues, the New York Press, Bitch and Women's eNews.

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