Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Romney's empty 'binders full of women'

By Maria Cardona, Special to CNN
updated 5:24 PM EDT, Thu October 18, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Romney's "binders full of women" debate remark is a viral phenomenon
  • Maria Cardona: He avoided the real question about rectifying women's inequality
  • Cardona: "Binders" comment shows how out of touch Romney is with women's issues
  • Cardona: The story and his claims about hiring women in Massachusetts are false

Editor's note: Maria Cardona is a Democratic strategist, a principal at the Dewey Square Group, a former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton and former communications director for the Democratic National Committee.

(CNN) -- Mitt Romney showed up Tuesday night talking about "binders full of women" being brought to him when he was governor. Sounds kind of kinky and certainly not something you want to be touting.

The phrase was part of Romney's answer to a question from an audience member at the second presidential debate about how he would "rectify the inequalities in the workplace." Referring to when he took over as Massachusetts governor, he said, "I had the chance to pull together a Cabinet, and all the applicants seemed to be men," he said. "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 "binders" moment went viral immediately on Twitter, spawning @RomneysBinders and @womaninabinder Twitter handles. As of Wednesday morning, almost 300,000 people had supported a Facebook page about what a politically dumb statement it was. Romney may soon say it was "inelegant" phrasing or he didn't finish his statement or some other excuse, but the comment shows why voters, especially women, don't trust him and don't believe he has their back.

CNN Money: Bindersfullofwomen.com snapped up in 90 seconds

Maria Cardona
Maria Cardona

In fairness, "binders" was most likely a slip of the tongue. But Romney said it in an effort to obfuscate and pivot from the issue at hand: equality for women. He avoided the real question, and that, and his remark, spoke volumes.

Even as a slip of the tongue, this odd phrase betrays Romney's true lack of understanding, knowledge and comfort level on women's equality. And besides the binders comment, there are several problems with the story Romney told Tuesday night.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



First of all, it is not true. The "binder" of women's résumés was prepared before the election by the Massachusetts Government Appointments Project, a coalition of nonpartisan women's groups. When Romney won, the women -- not in binders -- gave him the résumés.

See Romney tell story about 'binders of women'
"Binders of women" buzzing on Facebook
Romney wasn't behind 'binders of women'

Romney told that story in an effort to demonstrate how well his administration had done in hiring women. Except it didn't. A study by the University of Massachusetts and the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy shows that the percentage of women in senior positions during his tenure actually declined. It went from 30% when Romney took office to 27% when he left and up to more than 33% after the new governor took over.

Did Romney undo gains with women?

Also, it boggles the mind that throughout his decades-long career in business, Romney had not come across any qualified women he could appoint to his Cabinet. The Romney campaign points to longtime aide Beth Myers, but she was not in the Cabinet.

The more reasonable explanation is that diversity of gender, or any kind of diversity, was never an important tenet of corporate leadership for Romney. Which is why he did not proactively seek out the "binders full of women": Women's groups, in fact, came looking for him.

All of this goes to the heart of why Romney has had such a hard time winning over the women's vote. He answered the audience member's question from the standpoint of a detached CEO who knew that he had to find qualified women to serve in his administration come hell or high water, given the vast disparity between men and women holding management positions. He must have known he would be blasted if he didn't do it. In this day and age, this should be a no-brainer. You should not ask the American people to give you a medal for hiring qualified women.

The dissonance when it comes to the governor and women went even further at the debate. Romney not only couldn't answer the question about women' equality, he could not even answer a question about outlawing AK-47s without bringing up single mothers. Saying he did not believe in changing gun laws, he seemed to equate children raised by single parents with the "culture of violence." I may be wrong, but I don't think that is a good strategy to get struggling single moms to vote for you.

Tech: Social world thumbs through 'binders full of women'

President Obama, in contrast, answered the equality question not just from a personal standpoint as a father but also as a commander in chief who signed a bill into law that guaranteed women could receive equal pay for equal work, the Lilly Ledbetter Act. Romney conspicuously never said whether he supported that act. The president's approach was much more in synch with what women want to hear and with what all Americans know to be fair.

The binders comment was even more unfortunate for Romney in that he said it in the midst of Obama's very strong showing. The president clearly showed that he had the fight, the passion and the commitment to continue to work for middle-class voters -- on jobs, on health care, on taxes, on education, on immigration and, yes, on women's issues.

This all underscores Romney's inability to really connect with voters. Although he seemed to win a little more favor among women after the first debate, I predict binders of polling data as to why that movement stopped after Tuesday night.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Maria Cardona.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016.
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 12:29 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
updated 8:31 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
updated 9:05 PM EDT, Sat August 23, 2014
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
updated 5:52 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
updated 5:21 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT