The unfortunate remark at the presidential debates tonight was a spark that ignited an Internet meme wildfire. But first of all, the obvious question:
Did Governor Romney seriously ask for "binders full of women" be brought to him as Governor of Massachusetts?
Romney was explaining that as the governor of Massachusetts searching for qualified women to fill cabinet posts, women’s groups brought him “binders full of women” who were good candidates.
“And I said, ‘Well, gosh, can’t we — can’t we find some — some women that are also qualified?” Romney 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.”
In politics, retribution is swift. In this case, it took seconds for aTwitter page entitled @Romneybinders to be created with over 30,000 followers in its first few minutes of existence. Tweeters quipped:
Romney likes stacked women–stacked in binders.
Memes quickly followed, these ones from Tumblr:
Another one dishes on Romney and "Dirty Dancing:"
Who can resist Hugh Hefner?
And a poke at Rapper Romney:
One supposes the binder industry will have an epiphany by morning.
Yet all may not be what it appears. On Talking Politics, writer David Bernstein wrote that Romney's anecdote about asking for those "binders full of women" to find women to fill positions in his government is a lie. Here's the section of the transcript from the debates tonight:
CROWLEY: Governor Romney, pay equity for women?
ROMNEY: Thank you. An 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 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 they brought us whole binders full 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.
Now one of the reasons I was able to get so many good women to be part of that team was because of our recruiting effort.
Bernstein argues that Romney has twisted the tale. Here is what he says really happened:
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.
Bernstein does say Romney did appoint an impressive amount of women to lead positions, but in departments Romney didn't really care about, and no senior positions went to women.
One more thing Romney knows–but has no plan for–in order to solve pay inequality employers have to step up and pay it of their own volition.
And so far…while the comment was amusing, his serious claim has earned him 4 Pinocchios from the Washington Post fact checker. Apparently the Romney campaign is a poster child for the need to learn basic math.
But for now, he's Mitt Romney–Captain of Finance, and Binder of Women.