Mitt Romney revealed his gender-conscious hiring policies as governor of Massachusetts -- based on "binders full of women" -- during the October 16 presidential debate, a comment that was immediately recognized as an endorsement of affirmative action by several commentators in the media. But The Wall Street Journal editorial page and other conservative media outlets that have harshly condemned such affirmative action policies have yet to fully address Romney's statement.
In Tuesday's debate, an audience member asked the presidential candidates, "[i]n what new ways do you intend to rectify the inequalities in the workplace, specifically regarding females making only 72 percent of what their male counterparts earn?" In response, Romney described his past utilization of inclusive hiring practices, also known as affirmative action:
ROMNEY: Thank you. And -- 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 -- 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 I brought us whole binders full of -- 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.
Mark Shields of PBS immediately recognized the significance of Romney's statements in post-debate analysis:
MARK SHIELDS: Can I tell you what the lead is -- OK -- what the lead is? Women in binders.
I mean, that is -- that will be the clip that will be seen around the world, Mitt Romney. And the interesting thing about that is, he told the story about the women in his Cabinet, was that was affirmative action. That is affirmative action.
He got all these men. And he said, no, no, can't we find some women? Go out and find some women. That's the definition of affirmative action.
MARK SHIELDS: And I will be interested to see The Wall Street Journal editorial page attack him on that tomorrow.
Like everyone else, I had several good laughs over the GOP candidate's "binders full of women" quote from last night's town-hall debate.
But then I realized that, creepy as that imagery is, the country would be better off if more powerful men took a cue from Romney on this one. He says that, as governor, he made "a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet." This is a pretty big statement, especially coming from a Republican candidate. We talk a lot about how diversity matters and how equal representation is important. But in most corners of society, especially the upper echelons of power, we haven't figured out the best way to walk that talk. Usually when advocates suggest that we need policies in place to ensure our elected officials and CEOs and college admission boards are making a concerted effort to go out and find women and people of color, all political hell breaks loose. Just look at conversation surrounding the Supreme Court's recent reconsideration of the University of Texas's affirmative action policies.
Watching Romney tout his appointment record at the town-hall debate last night, I couldn't help but feel a little bit proud of him. Seriously! With the binders anecdote, he was essentially describing affirmative action: He realized he needed more diversity in his cabinet, and so he sought out qualified women he may not have otherwise considered. This is laudable. Shocking, even! Especially when you consider that, also in the first year of his governorship, Romney tried to quietly roll back the state's affirmative action laws.
Contrary to Mark Shields' joking "prediction," The Wall Street Journal editorial board has not commented on Romney's support of affirmative action as of this posting, even though it recently called on the Supreme Court to "reclaim [its] constitutional and moral bearings" by rejecting a University of Texas Law School admissions policy which takes race into account in order to promote student body diversity.
The National Review Online also ignored the substance of Romney's debate comments and instead claimed the anecdote was unremarkable, in contrast to their past objection to affirmative action on the basis of both gender and race. National Review Online and The Wall Street Journal should note that Kerry Healey, Romney's Lieutenant Governor from 2003 to 2007 and a current surrogate for his campaign, further told Fox News that the "binders full of women" program amounted to a so-called quota system in which hiring targets were linked to the percentage of women in the Massachusetts population. From America Live:
MEGYN KELLY: He was claiming that he made a commitment to fill his cabinet positions in Massachusetts with more than just men, he said most of the applicants were men, and most of the guys, the candidates were men.
KERRY HEALEY: That's right. The back story here is that a women's organization, a bipartisan women's organization, the Massachusetts Women's Political Caucus, came to both candidates in the race and said if you're elected will you pledge, will you promise to put as many women in your cabinet as there are percentage of women in Massachusetts, which is about 50 percent. Both candidates said yes. So when Governor Romney was elected he set out to fulfill that promise. One thing you can know about Governor Romney is that when he makes a promise while he's campaigning, he's going to fulfill that promise. And so...
MEGYN KELLY: How did the numbers work out?
KERRY HEALEY: 50 percent. And it was the highest in the nation.