Michelle Obama speech: Adds Dad to Ann Romney’s tired mom

Michelle Obama and Ann Romney speeches: Agreement that moms are tired on both sides of the aisle. GOP equates parenting with mothering; Democrats seem to see parenting issues as family issues – with Dad just as tired as Mom.

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    Michelle Obama, in her Democratic National Convention speech, echoed Anne Romney’s tired mom theme but with a tired dad twist. There's something substantial in the way Obama and Romney spoke about that oh-so-common candidate spouse subject of family. But it would be too simplistic to label this as a “mommy wars” issue.
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Mom is still tired. But this time, so is Dad.

Last week, during the Republican National Convention, we wrote about how Ann Romney’s speech focused on the trials of Mom – how she always has to work a little bit harder than Dad, how she worries more about elderly parents and school assignments, how she is really just wiped.

“We salute you and sing your praises,” the wife of presidential hopeful Mitt Romney said to the mothers of America. (Yup, motherhood and apple pie. Love the conventions.)

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Well, last night first lady Michelle Obama took center stage, and it turns out that moms on the left side of the aisle are pretty darn tired, too. Back in Chicago, Ms. Obama recalled, she and Barack had date nights that would include either dinner or a movie – “because as an exhausted mom, I couldn’t stay awake for both.”

For most of the speech, however, Obama took a rather different mommy approach than did Ms. Romney. She certainly included some passionate comments about her daughters – she talked of her worries about uprooting them for life in the White House, for instance, and said, emotionally, that “my most important title is still ‘mom in chief.’ My daughters are still the heart of my heart and the center of my world.”

But there was a lot less “I love women!” coming from Obama.

Instead, there were more personal anecdotes of the women and men in her and President Obama’s families working to make ends meet  – President Obama’s single mother trying to raise a son, his grandmother hitting the glass ceiling, the first lady’s father putting on his uniform every day despite aching from multiple sclerosis and coming back in the evening to give Michelle and her brother a hug. And in Michelle Obama's speech, the dads worried about kids, too. Not just financially.

After all, according to her words last night, it was Barack who, “when our girls were first born, would anxiously check their cribs every few minutes to ensure they were still breathing, proudly showing them off to everyone we knew.”

And it’s the president who sits at the dinner table answering Malia’s and Sasha’s questions about issues in the news, “and strategizing about middle school friendships.”

Now, we'll leave the political analysis to others. But it’s hard not to see something substantial in the way Obama and Romney spoke about that oh-so-common candidate spouse subject of family. Something that perhaps goes even deeper than the more overtly political lines in Obama's speech, such as the praise for her husband’s signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act “to help women get equal pay for equal work,” or how “he believes that women are more than capable of making our own choices about our bodies and our health care.”

It would be too simplistic to label this as a “mommy wars” issue, although Obama’s reference to specific policies certainly contrasted to Romney’s assertion that she didn’t want to talk about politics, but about love. Look at what each speech included, and did not include, and one can perhaps glimpse contrasting ways of looking at the world – or at least the relationship between moms and dads, dads and kids, young women and current events, work and home.

While both sides talked much about parenting, one might argue – no value judgement here, folks – that the GOP tended to equate that with “mothering,” and “women’s issues” with “mom’s issues.” The Dems seemed to give more weight to both parents, and present all of those questions of financial aid and work and child care as family issues.

All the political pundits say that women are a key constituency in this presidential election. Both sides are courting those voters; the GOP lined up the best and most powerful of their female figures to give keynote speeches; the Democrats reiterated their claim that the Republicans are waging a “War on Women.”

But rhetoric is different than policy. After Romenys’ speech, we wrote about a few policy topics – child care, maternity leave, and pay equality – that might be important to the sought-after mom voter. Here, after Obama's, are a couple more:

Family/paternity leave. Last week we mentioned maternity leave, and how the US is one of the only countries in the world where the government does not provide or mandate some sort of paid leave for mom after she has a baby. But what about dad? The US Family and Medical Leave Act allows “eligible” employees – male or female – to take 12 weeks unpaid leave after the birth of a child. But only about half of the US labor force is covered by this legislation, according to the US Department of Labor. Should there be a government effort to allow fathers secure time off work for family time, or is this a mom issue? Or a private concern all together?

Family planning. Ah, the contraception debate. This one has turned out to be big this campaign. A component of the new health care law requires all employers except religious ones to provide its employees birth-control services; an amendment sponsored by Sen. Roy Blunt, R of Missouri, would allow any US employer to deny contraceptive health coverage to employees based on religious or moral objections. Mitt Romney has said he supports the amendment. This topic has gotten all sorts of emotional, with some Roman Catholic schools and hospitals saying the health care law infringes on religious freedom, and with conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh calling Georgetown Law School student Sandra Fluke a “slut” for testifying in support of the policy.

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So, should women have the right to access contraception as if it were any other type of health care service?  Or is it simply not the government’s role to ensure that its citizens have access to this sort of family planning?

More policy questions as the campaign continues.
 
 

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