Katie and Cortney have already touched on this brewing "controversy," but I suspect the smallness of the issue -- if you can call it that -- is actually indicative of something larger. The Left's fixation on Mitt Romney's turn of phrase "women full of binders" in the second debate may represent the pettiest and most trivial chapter of this entire campaign. And yes, I'm fully aware of the fact that we've witnessed multiple attacks centered around Romney's pets. At first, I viewed "binders" as a transitory lefty internet meme-generator and twitter sensation. Romney's word choice was slightly awkward, but nothing more -- perfect fodder for web silliness. But then the President of the United States tweeted about it, and incorporated the word into his stump speech (while quietly dropping the part about Al Qaeda being on the run). Ridiculous and unpresidential, perhaps, but so was Big Bird. Surely Obama was just needling his opponent over a flash-in-the-pan, substanceless verbal misstep, right? Wrong. The Obama campaign is now aggressively promoting "bindergate" online, sternly warning Americans that the throwaway sentence is damning evidence of Romney's "condescending views towards women." Really:
As a person who enjoys at least a modicum of brain activity, I'm not exactly sure how to react to this. It's so trifling, so frivolous, that it shouldn't merit any discussion whatsoever. But here we are. The leader of the free world and his campaign have decided to elevate is as an issue, so I suppose my response is four-fold:
(1) If Mitt Romney had said "binders full of women's resumes," this whole thing would be less than nothing (I'm not willing to concede that it's actually something). Every single non-lunatic person watching that exchange understood precisely what Romney was saying, even as it evoked the weird mental image of a giant three-ring binder filled with human beings. A meaningless 'oops' at worst. The phrase is not even offensive on its face. Even out of context, who hears "binders full of women," and is authentically offended or shocked? Nobody.
(2) The entirety of Romney's answer directly refutes the Obama campaign's puzzling assertion that Romney was exhibiting anti-women condescension. The whole point of the story is that he walks the walk when it comes to empowering women in the workplace. Barack Obama talks a lot about "pay fairness," droning on about the triumph of the Lily Ledbetter Act. Then he goes on to complain that the problem persists -- despite his grand legislative achievement, and without acknowledging the plain truth that the pay gap "problem" is largely attributable to factors other than discrimination. Nor does he mention that his White House pays female staffers $11,000 less per year than their male counterparts, on average (to say nothing of all this). Romney, on the other hand, went out of his way to seek and recruit qualified women leaders to serve at the highest levels of state government. He doesn't need window-dressing, ineffective legislation to prove his commitment; he's lived it.
(3) The genuine "condescending to women" in this instance flows from the Obama campaign. Do they believe American women are so stupid that they can't recognize this absurd piece of feigned indignation for what it is? Women voters are concerned about jobs, take home pay, rising costs, and the dangerous national debt. Team Obama seems to think they can peel away substantial numbers of these voters by convincing them that Mitt Romney's "binders" is somehow deeply troubling. It's not. In any way. And women know this; they're not children.
(4) This week's USA Today/Gallup poll of swing states showed Mitt Romney in the lead, boosted in part by drawing even with the president among female voters. The Obama campaign freaked out about the poll's methodology and labeled it an outlier. But if that survey didn't strike a nerve in Chicago, what explains this new round of transparent and truly desperate pandering to women? By hopping from Big Bird to binders, the Obama team has not only (again) shown itself to be shallow and unserious; it's tipped its own hand on some very real concerns about a shrinking gender gap. Without winning a sizable majority of women, this president does not get re-elected. Period.
I'll leave you with three videos, all of which are relevant to this battle. The first is Romney's new ad correcting the record and fighting serial distortions of his stances on abortion and birth control. The second is a web spot featuring some of the very women who emerged from Romney's binders to serve in positions of influence and power in the Massachusetts government. Finally, an Obama classic that feels more relevant today than ever before:
"If you don't have a record to run on...you make big elections about small things:"
UPDATE - On MSNBC, Time's Mark Halperin was decidedly unimpressed with 'bindergate:'
UPDATE II - Must-read from Mary Katharine Ham: Over Romney's term in Massachusetts, 45 percent of high-level positions were filled by women. This compares very favorably to today's Democrat governors, and to Barack Obama's cabinet.