17 October 2012, 5:14 PM
You know, I keep thinking about the binders full of women story, and I think that while David S. Bernstein’s post corrects the falsehood, there’s a lot of important context that he lived through and has explained so often that he left it out of the post. So I’m going to try here.
In April 2001, Governor Paul Celucci left town for no apparent reason, leaving the Lieutentant Governor, Jane Swift, to assume his duties. She became the first woman to act as Governor of Massachusetts. The first woman elected to any statewide office had been only two years previously. There hadn’t been a Massachusetts woman in the US House for twenty years. None of the leadership positions in the state legislatures were held by women. Dapper O’Neill had been cracking hostile and abusive misogynist jokes on the Boston City Council up until 1999. The political culture in Massachusetts was profoundly, pervasively sexist. But through a succession of flukes, there was a woman acting as Governor.
And Willard “Mitte” Romney—who had no traditional qualifications for the job, who had never shown he could win an election, who didn’t even live in the state—threw the incumbent off the ticket so he could assume the nomination to which he was entitled by birth, bank account and balls. Or so it certainly appeared at the time. Women were outraged. Not so much because of Jane Swift, because nobody really liked her, but the way it all came down seemed so ugly, and was all of a piece with the culture as a whole. Remember, there wasn’t even a bench of women who had been groomed by either Party to grab nominations, leadership positions and column-inches. Among appointed positions, less than a third were women, and most of those in lower-profile positions. The nominee did wind up with a woman as his Lieutentant Governor, although there as well, Kerry “Murphy” Healey had no traditional qualifications, which highlighted the state of women in Massachusetts politics even more.
It was in that context that MassGAP, the Massachusetts Government Appointments Project came together to recruit women to apply for government appointments (thus the name) and to work with whichever candidate won (My Party’s candidate was Shannon O’Brien, the aforementioned first-woman-to-be-elected-to-statewide-office) to increase the power of women in the state.
Their work has not been very successful.
MassGAP does continue to provide binders full of (resumés detailing the accomplishments of) women to the newly elected Governor. The numbers are not higher than they were ten years ago. The bench of women with traditional qualifications for the higher offices is barely higher than it was ten years ago. Gradual progress, yes, but gradual. This seems to me true of the world outside Massachusetts as well; gradual progress for women, but gradual, and with setbacks.
As for the nominee of the Other Party, I am perplexed by his untruth. His statement from last night’s debate, in case you are aching to read it again, was in response to a question about pay equity for women:
Thank you. And important topic, and one which I learned a great deal about, particularly as I was serving as governor of my state, because I had the chance to pull together a cabinet and all the applicants seemed to be men. 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.
The main untruth was the claim that he went to women’s groups, rather than them coming to him. He is also claiming, as far as I can tell, that his closest advisors were a bunch of chauvinist assholes, which doesn’t really look good for him, does it? And, of course, what Mitt Romney is describing is taking action, affirmatively, to address a longstanding social problem, which he doesn’t seem to support in a general way (and more importantly, neither does his Party). But even when you correct for all of those, what is still missing is that it was Willard “Mitte” Romney turfing Jane Swift that sparked the outrage that led to the existence of the binders in the first place.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,