And I -- and I went to my staff, and I said, “How come all the people for these jobs are -- are all men.” They said, “Well, these are the people that have the qualifications.” And I said, “Well, gosh, can’t we -- can’t we find some -- some women that are also qualified?”
And -- and so we -- we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet.
I went to a number of women’s groups and said, “Can you help us find folks,” and they brought us whole binders full of women.
Mitt Romney may become President Romney. But if he doesn't, he can take satisfaction in providing the most memorable debate moment since Dan Quayle became Vice President No-Jack-Kennedy. The internet has become an endless variation of binders full of women.
One entry was on the radio this afternoon. "First you get the money. Then you get the power. Then you get the binders full of women."
The story was an illustration of how employers could be counted on, as Mitt Romney could be trusted, to hire women on an affirmative basis, putting an end to unfair hiring practices and, presumably, to unfair wage differences. No legislation was needed. Mitt Romney as boss cast himself as a typical employer, well intentioned and fair.
In a way, he capitalized on an image of a sort of generic factory floor supervisor, drafted from central casting. James Lipton, host of Inside the Actors Studio paints a picture of Mr. Romney as a stereotypical CEO telling relaxed jokes to a room of anxious employees and waiting for mandated laughter. The Romney binder remark was no better in context. Women need more flexibility, he said, so they can go home and fix dinner.
"Binders full of women" was, for Governor Romney, unfortunate phraseology. The story itself was also untrue. According to the Boston Globe, he "did not have a history of appointing women to high-level positions in the private sector. Romney did not have any women partners as CEO of Bain Capital during the 1980s and 1990s."
Later, as Governor of Massachusetts, he did not go to anyone and insist they find a binder filled with women. Before he was elected, he was instead confronted by groups who had, quite independently, compiled binders filled with impressive resumes. They used it to remove any excuse candidates for Governor might come up with to avoid hiring women. After he was elected, Mitt Romney did hire women, mostly as heads of agencies he had pledged to end, and he mostly ignored them. They were, after all, in charge of agencies he didn't much like.
During his tenure as Governor, his record was about average. The number of women in senior appointed positions went from 30.0% before he took office to 29.7% a about halfway through his term to 27.6% as he left office. It went way up when Democrat Devall Patrick became Governor right after.
But the presidency isn't just about hiring history. It is about a legislative agenda. Gerald Ford was described by his press secretary as having a degree of personal compassion few could match. He would be willing to give someone in need the shirt off his back, then go to the Oval Office and veto a school lunch program for hungry kids.
The question Mitt Romney had been asked was about the first bill President Obama signed upon assuming office. The courts had ruled that women could not sue employers for wage discrimination, lower pay for the same work, if they did not file a claim in a timely way. If they waited, they could not take any action. Problem was women often did not know they were paid lower wages until the time period had expired. The new law made it easier for women to prove wage discrimination.
Governor Romney will not commit to enforcing the law, and will not even promise not to push to undo it. There is no discernible distinction between his own position on workplace discrimination and that of the comically extreme Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin here in Missouri. Congressman Akin is most famous for statements about "legitimate rape" but he has also taken some heat for his belief that anti-discrimination laws are an infringement of basic freedom.
It is a classic sort of libertarian philosophy. Employers will want to hire those workers who are discriminated against because those employees can be hired at a cheaper wage. Competition will force wages upward, and everyone will be equal. Market forces are the cure for pretty much everything that needs correction. It is an honorable, if somewhat idealistic approach.
Representative Akin, like Mr. Romney, disagrees with discrimination. Like Mr. Romney, if Mr. Akin was an employer, he would not discriminate in hiring or in salary. He just does not want to force other employers to hire people they don't want or to award wages they don't want to pay.
The market as duct tape, good for every repair, didn't work very well for black people from the end of the Civil War through generations that followed. More was accomplished in the years after civil rights legislation of the mid-sixties than in the eight and a half decades following the administration of Rutherford B. Hayes, after President Hayes dismantled protective agencies from stopping lynchings and protecting voting rights of newly freed slaves.
The idea that employers can be counted on to make honorable choices extends to everything from political orders (coal miners ordered off the job and forced into a pro-Romney television ad) to birth control. Governor Romney offered no objection to Republican proposals to force women to get permission from workplace bosses before using their insurance benefits to fill prescriptions for contraception. Democrats voted down the idea.
This week's debate offered a memorable phrase. But Governor Romney's "women in binders" is emblematic of something more serious. Mitt Romney offers to the nation his own disputed expertise as a CEO and Wall Street producer of profit. His treatment of ordinary workers seems to have ranged from beneficent indifference to skillful hostility.
Still, many of us would not mind trusting Mitt Romney as a workplace supervisor. When it comes to a variety of position binders from equality of hiring and wages to fair treatment to personal medical decisions, we might not want to trust every employer on everything.
At issue is basic social philosophy. We will vote for Barack Obama and choose a President, or we will vote for Mitt Romney and choose a boss.
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