WASHINGTON—Mitt Romney "unzipped" is the stuff of cartoonists' dreams.
The image suggested came from none other than his wife, Ann, when a Baltimore radio interviewer asked whether it's true that her husband is stiff. Yes, do go ahead and cover the children's eyes.
"Well, you know, I guess we better unzip him and let the real Mitt Romney out because he is not!" laughed the Mrs.
But, really, should we be talking like this? About unzipping the stiff and letting the "real Mitt" out? Goodness gracious, as Romney would say. What's next, hot cocoa before noon?
Ann Romney's comments coincided with the punditocracy's swoon over her husband's lack of popularity among the once-fairer sex. (Women have cojones now, you may have heard, while men are ransacking Viagra warehouses. Dots, anyone?) Recent polls show single women under 50 scrambling back into the warm embrace of Barack Obama after a brief flirtation with the Republican boy band—Mitt, Rick, Ron and Newt.
Was it something they said about birth control?
This seems to be the conventional wisdom. Once contraception became a topic of debate, women amscrayed in the other direction. It isn't as though women haven't always found the Democratic Party more hospitable, but the brouhaha over whether "Obamacare" should force religious groups to fund or endorse insurance coverage for contraception seems to have reminded women of just how fragile reproductive autonomy is.
It didn't help that at the same time, some states moved to force ultrasounds on women seeking abortion; Rush Limbaugh called a young woman a "slut" when she appeared on Capitol Hill to make a case for contraceptive coverage; the GOP looks and acts like a fraternity of cranky old white men.
But what really gives with the old gender gap? Why are women running away from Republicans if, as Ann Romney insists, they're really interested in the economy and jobs, not abortions and "free" birth control?
In 12 battleground states where pollsters recently took to clipboards, more than 60 percent of women under 50 prefer Obama over Mitt Romney. Just a few weeks ago, fewer than half of this group said they'd re-elect the president. Which means, of course, that things could shift in another few weeks.
Meanwhile, some analysts say that Romney's decline in popularity among women has to do with his promise to defund Planned Parenthood, which to female ears apparently is tantamount to saying, "Women? They're so cute when they're pregnant."
Defunding Planned Parenthood is of course a staple of the Republican diet because some portion of public funds is in the same airspace as women seeking abortions. A guy can't get nominated by the GOP unless he confesses his disapproval of Planned Parenthood, a thorough exploration of which will have to await a better mood. I'm swinging at the moment.
It nevertheless bears mentioning at this point that Romney has no objection to contraception, as he said during one of the Republican debates. Moreover, the shift in women's attitudes did not, in fact, coincide with the birth-control debate.
Counterintuitively, women indicated in yet other polls that they weren't really that concerned about the birth control issue and that they did, by a majority, disapprove of what the government was doing in principle.
The public opinion research firm QEV Analytics conducted a private poll for the Catholic Association and found that 59 percent of unmarried women think birth control should be handled like any other drug, rather than offered free. Among married women, the number was 67 percent.
The poll also found that 55 percent of unmarried women would question the wisdom of the Obama administration's contraceptive mandate if it meant that religious agencies serving the poor would have to shut down because of prohibitive fines.
Women do not monolithically think with their uteri, in other words, the assumption of which may well be a male projection, so to speak. And though the cumulative effect of these discussions may have swayed some women to stick with the president, to focus only on so-called "women's issues" is perhaps to miss the more compelling point and, therefore, in Romney's case, to miss what needs fixing.
It is entirely possible that women simply aren't that into Mitt. He's just not their kind of guy. Health care, taxes, budgets, debt ceilings, capacity utilization, Chinese currency: so important. But at the end of the day—does he have "it"?
His wife says he does, but then she knows the unzipped Mitt. The question for American women is, do they really want to go there?
Kathleen Parker's email address is email@example.com. (c) 2012, Washington Post Writers Group.