David Frum

04.12.12

Politics 101: Don't Attack Motherhood

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Steven Senne / AP Photo

In the campaign of 1936, James Farley—the Postmaster General and de facto Democratic campaign manager—dismissively referred to Republican presidential nominee Alf Landon as governor of a "typical Midwestern state." (The state being Kansas.)

Farley ignited a firestorm of criticism, including a Republican ad that portrayed Abraham Lincoln as a "typical Midwesterner."

Roosevelt wrote a letter of criticism to Farley. When you refer to blocs of voters, Roosevelt said, you always compliment, never insult them. Had Farley referred to Kansas as a splendid Midwestern state, there'd have been no trouble.

What applied to Midwesterners then applies to at-home mothers now. There's a strong left-of-center culture-war temptation to denigrate them, dating back to Simone de Beauvoir's argument that women must be "forced to be free." That temptation to wage mommy wars has since been reinforced by class war, as increasingly only the most economically secure families can afford to withdraw mothers from the paid labor force.

Still, however tempting, you'd think it would be Politics 101: don't do it.