The moment in last night’s debate latched onto by our budding American meme industry came when Mitt Romney talked about the “binders full of women” he was supplied with while Governor of Massachusetts.
CROWLEY: Governor Romney, pay equity for women?
ROMNEY: Thank you. An 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 rest of this answer borders on insult, by implying that the only way to hire women is to design flexible work hours for them so they can cook dinner for their kids (not a problem for men, apparently, who just hand their kids Burger King vouchers), and that improving the economy will make it so that employers will have to hire anybody, even women! Also this didn’t answer the question, which was about pay equity and not affirmative action (which is precisely what Romney was describing.
But it’s worth noting that, even on this throwaway issue, the binders weren’t Romney’s idea:
What actually happened was that in 2002 — prior to the election, not even knowing yet whether it would be a Republican or Democratic administration — a bipartisan group of women in Massachusetts formed MassGAP to address the problem of few women in senior leadership positions in state government. There were more than 40 organizations involved with the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus (also bipartisan) as the lead sponsor.
They did the research and put together the binder full of women qualified for all the different cabinet positions, agency heads, and authorities and commissions. They presented this binder to Governor Romney when he was elected.
I have written about this before, in various contexts; tonight I’ve checked with several people directly involved in the MassGAP effort who confirm that this history as I’ve just presented it is correct — and that Romney’s claim tonight, that he asked for such a study, is false.
There’s also the fact that Romney was in the business world in Massachusetts for decades and needed a binder to find a handful of competent, qualified women to staff his Administration.
Since women’s issues didn’t come up at all in the first Presidential or the Vice Presidential debate, I think this moment stands out. And while this isn’t too much more than a politician burnishing his record and making it shine, in the hands of a serial prevaricator like Mitt Romney, it takes on new significance.
P.S. As I perpetually like to point out when pay equity issues come up, the Lilly Ledbetter Act did not alter the pay equity gap at all, and legislation that may have made a difference was not taken up.