In this, the first social-media presidential election, the debates have come to resemble reality shows during which virtual audiences cast ballots (and aspersions), hiccoughing their impulse-reactions to every word and movement into the intellectual vacuum we charitably call the body politic.
Two debates in, and the complex issues of our day have been reduced to a large yellow bird and binders full of women.
The problem isn’t only with the debates themselves, but the simultaneous critique by the world’s largest party — social media. Our million-way conversation is a convention of Snarks Anonymous. The cleverest commenter gets a free, if short, ride on the Fame Wheel, usually at the expense of Mitt Romney, who, let’s stipulate, is not the likeliest presidential choice of the Twitter generation.
It doesn’t help that Romney is so ... giving.
During the first debate, he delivered Big Bird, one of his targets for funding cuts along with public broadcasting. Such easy prey for President Obama, whose campaign launched a rejoinder sure to capture the tyke vote: Obama kills Osama bin Laden and Romney wants to kill Big Bird. It was the kind of setup that puts comedy writers out of work.
Next came the “binders full of women.” Romney was answering (or avoiding) a question about the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which removed the statute of limitations for filing complaints about unequal pay, and switched to his record on hiring women. In the process of a search to fill Cabinet positions while governor of Massachusetts, he said he had “binders full of women.”
Before the debate was over, the hashtag #bindersfullofwomen was ricocheting through the Twitterverse. By morning, “binders full of women” was the lead topic on talk shows and continues to be a multimedia punch line.
It would all be so very amusing if not for the subsequent media interrogatory. Was this emblematic of Romney’s attitude toward women? Did Romney cause himself irreparable harm among women voters?
I defer to Time’s Mark Halperin, who doubtless spoke for many of us when he said on “Morning Joe”: “The binder thing is what’s wrong with our politics.”
Ridiculous, in other words.
In full disclosure, I should confess that I am a binder person. I have a binder for everything — family, finances, office, home, dog. I do not objectify these aspects of my life; I honor them with organizational zeal. So when Romney said that he had binders full of women, I thought, well of course.
As it turns out, at least some of his binders were provided by a women’s organization that was lobbying the governor for more women in power positions. Good for them — and good for him.
He did it, filling 10 of the top 20 positions in his administration with women.
By contrast, it seems fair to mention, women staffers in the Obama administration have reported feeling marginalized, according to Ron Suskind’s book “Confidence Men.” One even described the White House as a “hostile workplace.”
But never mind.
The Obama campaign couldn’t be more delighted with “Bindergate,” which dovetails nicely with the narrative created by Obama’s team that Romney is waging war on women. Not all women see things this way, the evidence of which is the movement of women voters toward Romney, especially after the first debate. For this reason, perhaps, the Obama campaign immediately bought a Twitter ad and issued this statement: “The President talked about women as breadwinners. Romney talked about them as resumes in ‘binders.’“
Actually, he spoke of them as people he wanted to hire, but again, never mind.
Romney can be awkward. His word choices are sometimes odd. But the idea that this particular phrasing was so jarring to some women that they got digital vapors is nonsense. Twitter may keep us entertained, but it can also make us ninnies.
So much ado about nothing leads one to wonder what else might be going on. Perhaps Obama foreshadowed these events in his acceptance speech at the 2008 Democratic convention when he said: “If you don’t have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from. You make a big election about small things.”
File that one in your binder full of politics.
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for The Washington Post.