"Binders Full of Women" has legs

Leave aside the humorous add-ons, and Mitt Romney's inartful "Binders full of women" comment from last night's debate could sound like just an off-the-cuff comment that his campaign could explain away.

Or it could be a serious insult to professional working women, especially single women, across America.

Romney desperately needs to cut into President Obama's advantage among single women in swing states, and had started doing so in the aftermath of the first debate. But right now, Team Obama's best ally on the issues of pay equity and health care access is Willard Mitt Romney. The guy is congenitally incapable of showing true empathy for the plight of the working middle class American, which leads to comments like the Binders bit.

And his flex-time bit. And his single-parents-are-the-cause-of-gun-violence bit. And his I-care-about-100% self-immolation. And so on. And so on.

This is what a successful debate looks like: fire up the progressive base with a strong, passionate defense of the past four years, look forward to the next with vision, and hold Mitt Romney accountable for his lies and torture of the truth. Oh, and let him step in his campaign's own traps.

Let's roll back the tape on the binders thing after the break (the money quote is right at the end):

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.

I was proud of the fact that after I staffed my Cabinet and my senior staff, that the University of New York in Albany did a survey of all 50 states, and concluded that mine had more women in senior leadership positions than any other state in America.

Now one of the reasons I was able to get so many good women to be part of that team was because of our recruiting effort.

In context of his answer and nothing else, it doesn't sound so bad. Unless you consider that he was gabbing in response to President Obama's very strong answer on pay equity, specifically citing the Lily Ledbetter Act and the fact that pay equity is a family and middle class issue, not just a women's issue.

Oh, and Romney's answer? Probably at least half-false on Politifact's scale:

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.

I will write more about this later, but for tonight let me just make a few quick additional points. First of all, according to MassGAP and MWPC, Romney did appoint 14 women out of his first 33 senior-level appointments, which is a reasonably impressive 42 percent. However, as I have reported before, those were almost all to head departments and agencies that he didn't care about -- and in some cases, that he quite specifically wanted to not really do anything. None of the senior positions Romney cared about -- budget, business development, etc. -- went to women.

Secondly, a UMass-Boston study found that the percentage of senior-level appointed positions held by women actually declined throughout the Romney administration, from 30.0% prior to his taking office, to 29.7% in July 2004, to 27.6% near the end of his term in November 2006. (It then began rapidly rising when Deval Patrick took office.)

Third, note that in Romney's story as he tells it, this man who had led and consulted for businesses for 25 years didn't know any qualified women, or know where to find any qualified women. So what does that say?

Indeed, what does it say?

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