Romney’s “Binders Full of Women” line that spawned a thousand memes? Not exactly true.

Remember last night during the presidential debates when the candidates were asked about pay equity, and Obama talked about concrete steps his administration had taken to ensure equality (the Lily Ledbetter Act, which he signed his first day in office), and Romney talked about how he would let a female staffer go home early because women need to cook dinner? And Romney also talked about how he was assembling his cabinet when he was elected governor of Massachusetts, and wouldn’t you know it, every single qualified person who applied was a man. Every single one! And so Big Daddy Romney, caring as much as he does about women in the workplace(?), went to women’s groups and asked them for qualified women. And they sent on “binders full of women” (cue internet memes). And then he hired a bunch of those women, and then according to a survey of all 50 states, “mine had more women in senior leadership positions than any other state in America.” That is a really nice story. It turns out that it’s not at all true.

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. That says quite a lot.

20 comments for “Romney’s “Binders Full of Women” line that spawned a thousand memes? Not exactly true.

  1. October 17, 2012 at 11:25 am

    I can’t believe Romney was so stupid as to make this comment last night. First of all, it didn’t even answer the young woman’s question. Obama’s answer did. Romney, on the other hand, talked about affirmative action. Frankly, I thought we were past that.

    • Anon21
      October 17, 2012 at 12:30 pm

      I felt like Obama’s answer was only partly responsible to the woman’s question, which was what he would do in the future to address the pay gap. The Lily Ledbetter Act is great, but I think it’s totally legitimate to want to know what additional steps to close the gap Obama would take in a second term. Obama’s answer was still much better than Romney’s.

      • Anon21
        October 17, 2012 at 12:31 pm

        responsive, not responsible.

  2. Past my expiration date
    October 17, 2012 at 11:29 am

    Of course he didn’t know any qualified women. That is because there aren’t any qualified women! Women (which is spelled m-o-t-h-e-r-s) are unqualified because of wanting to be home at 5 pm in order to cook dinner for their children.

    (Romney spells “parents” m-o-t-h-e-r-s too.)

  3. matlun
    October 17, 2012 at 11:51 am

    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?

    I am not sure whether this says something about Romney or about society (or both). Of course, it could just be part of the lie of his false story.

  4. Athenia
    October 17, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    What surprises (?) me is that yet again, a women’s group does all the hard work and a dude tries to take credit for it. What an ass.

    • (BFing)Sarah
      October 17, 2012 at 6:18 pm

      True!!

  5. Alexis
    October 17, 2012 at 1:30 pm

    I’m quite sick of the memes myself. They are a huge copout and allow us to look at shallow rhetoric and not the deeper issues these candidates have. Was the comment stupid? Yes. Was the story behind it factual? No. Could this be an opportunity for us to delve deeper into why candidates take these stances on women’s issues? Absolutely. This is even an opportunity for us to criticize society and government at large for the old boys’ club that it is.

    Instead a lot of people are using Photoshop.

    And that bothers me! It’s a wasted chance in a sound byte media culture that doesn’t inform anyone or cause anyone to think at all.

  6. October 17, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    Romney Loves the American People!

    http://cheezburger.com/6680871168

  7. Confused
    October 17, 2012 at 1:47 pm

    Nothing in the article you posted actually contradicts what Romney said.

    Try harder.

    • October 17, 2012 at 1:49 pm

      Are you serious? Read harder.

    • October 17, 2012 at 2:15 pm

      You’re “confused” all right.

      • Rayuela23
        October 18, 2012 at 1:54 am

        hahahaha

  8. Confused
    October 17, 2012 at 3:37 pm

    Romney said

    “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.”

    What in that statement was contradicted? He did not say he commissioned the search for qualified women. He did not suggest the binders were not compiled before thu asked for them. He didn’t even imply that his campaign was unaware of their existence before he was elected.

    • Anon21
      October 17, 2012 at 3:44 pm

      Two points: first, he didn’t make a “concerted effort,” but rather the concerted effort was made before the election to pressure both candidates to appoint women, and he just acceded to that. Second, he didn’t ask for the binder after the first round of picks came back too male, but rather the binder was given to him when he was elected.

      Overall, he gives the impression that increasing the gender diversity of his cabinet was his own idea, when in fact it wasn’t. (This is assuming that the account Jill posted is entirely accurate.)

    • Lolagirl
      October 17, 2012 at 4:19 pm

      It seems as though there is a global problem with Repubs like Confused lacking a fundamental grasp of even the basics of reading comprehension.

      “And I—and I went to my staff, and I said, ‘How come all the people for these jobs are—are all men.’

      Romney is saying here that he personally told his staffers that he was unhappy with the lack of women applicants pulled together by them. He then goes on to claim that he questioned them specifically and directly on the absence of any women candidates. The truth, however, is that Romney did not ever do this, and he never got to the point of asking anyone on his staff about potential female applicants. We know this because we have verification that people outside his administration independantly went out and collected CVs of several potential women applicants prior to Romney ever entering office.

      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.

      Again, “we”, that is Romney and his staff, did not take any concerted effort to find qualified women applicants. That concerted effort was undertaken by other groups outside the Romney administration. Which means Romney was not being truthful about what happened.

      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.”

      Romney and his people never too the initiative to approach any number of women’s groups to put together a pool of women for open positions on Romney’s staff. This is just a flat out lie on Romney’s part. We now know that the fact is that this initiative was taken by women’s groups who did so preemptively prior to Romney’s inauguration.

  9. October 17, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    There’s something I’ve been trying to understand about the apparent loss of Obama’s support among women voters following his first debate with Romney.

    If we (reasonably?) assume that prior to the first debate Obama’s advantage with women was based predominantly on his position on reproductive rights, pay equity, and other “women’s issues,” then what in that first debate — where these issues did not come up even indirectly — would have turned large numbers of women away from Obama and towards Romney? It’s true that Obama could have managed to somehow bring these issues up in the first debate, and his not doing so was a missed opportunity, maybe even a failure, but that still doesn’t seem enough to cause progressive repro rights voters to turn from Obama to the unprincipled Romney, who as president will be wholly owned and operated by the the socon right and its reproductive Luddites.

    Was Willard’s alpha male routine in debate #1 just so alluring that the ladies couldn’t help but succumb? To the extent that the gender gap simply vanished? I wouldn’t think so.

    Now, after the second debate, where Obama DID forcefully defend repro rights and fair pay, and where Romney just lied and floundered, there’s speculation that BO will regain some of those women supporters and that the gender gap will again widen.

    But again, if those supporters were swayable by a candidate’s position on so-called women’s issues, then why would they have ever left Obama for Romney in the first place?

    No question, Obama sucked in the first debate and I can see why he would have lost support generally, but why would that loss have been disproportionately greater among women who I would think support him disproportionately precisely because of specific policy positions that did not change from one debate to the other?

    I would expect (or at least hope) that Romney might lose support among women (and men) following debate #2 and his talk about binders of women and his deflection of questions about fair pay. But that still doesn’t explain why he would ever have drawn support from Obama in the first place on these issues.

    So what really accounts for the closing of the gender gap following the first debate? I’m not asking out of paranoia or looking for conspiracies. It’s just that it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

    • Anon21
      October 17, 2012 at 6:44 pm

      I don’t think there’s anything specific to female voters to explain about the closing of the gender gap after the first debate. Obama lost some support everywhere, but because he had more support among women to begin with, he had further to fall there. I would guess that women who switched their preferences after the first debate (setting aside those who just moved from “likely” to “unlikely” voters) were mostly just responding to Obama’s weak answers on his jobs record, the deficit, etc., and that the relative absence of “women’s issues” had little or nothing to do with Obama’s loss of support among female voters.

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