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Was Heinz Kerry’s comment referencing stay-at-home moms?

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Teresa Heinz Kerry may have apologized to First Lady Laura Bush Oct. 20, but that didn’t stop some from wondering if her original comment about what constitutes a “real job” was aimed at stay-at-home moms.

One day after a USA Today story quoted Heinz Kerry as questioning if the first lady had “ever had a real job” — and after Heinz Kerry apologized — the news world and Internet message boards were abuzz about the comment.

“Since when is being a mama not a real job?” wrote one poster on the website of Hearts at Home, a Christian organization for stay-at-home moms. “For goodness sakes — she had twins! She was working 24/7!”

Another person chimed in: “This has been a disconnect for years if you ask me. The attitude [is] if you don’t work outside the home then you don’t work.”

The controversy began when USA Today published an interview Oct. 20 in which Heinz Kerry, the wife of Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, said, “Well, you know, I don’t know Laura Bush. But she seems to be calm, and she has a sparkle in her eye, which is good. But I don’t know that she’s ever had a real job — I mean, since she’s been grown up.”

Within hours of the interview’s publication, Heinz Kerry released a statement, saying:

“I had forgotten that Mrs. Bush had worked as a school teacher and librarian, and there couldn’t be a more important job than teaching our children. As someone who has been both a full-time mom and full-time in the workforce, I know we all have valuable experiences that shape who we are. I appreciate and honor Mrs. Bush’s service to the country as first lady, and am sincerely sorry I had not remembered her important work in the past.”

Laura Bush accepted the apology and even said that one wasn’t needed.

But some commentators said that Heinz Kerry’s apology only compounded the problem because it ignored Laura Bush’s work in raising her two daughters. Heinz Kerry’s original point, they say, seemed to suggest that only paying jobs are “real jobs.”

“There’s no doubt that mothers that are home today raising toddlers, infants, children and teenagers know that that takes every ounce of energy and every moment that you have,” Carrie Gordon Earll, senior policy analyst for Focus on the Family Action, told Baptist Press. “That is the experience of so many women in this country. Then they feel frustrated when someone like Heinz Kerry comes along and doesn’t appreciate or give recognition to that.”

Hanna Rosin of The Washington Post made a similar point in an Oct. 21 story.

“[H]ere Heinz Kerry just stepped into it deeper,” Rosin said of the apology. “Again, she was repeating that Laura Bush only had a job when she had a paying job, and not during all those years she was raising the twins, or supporting her husband, or being first lady, or all those other things one is not allowed to define as the opposite of job.”

Barbara Comstock, a former Department of Justice spokeswoman, argued in a National Review online column that while Heinz Kerry may have forgotten that Laura Bush worked as a teacher and a librarian, she likely had not forgotten that the first lady was a mother. Comstock also wonders if Heinz Kerry, who is one of the richest women in the world, is out of touch.

“Certainly, we aren’t supposed to believe that she ‘forgot’ Laura Bush was a mom,” Comstock wrote. “Most of us moms — whether working moms or stay-at-home moms (I’ve been both) — consider that occupation more than a full-time job. Then again, most of us don’t have the staff of six that, as the New York Times reports, accommodate every whim of Teresa Heinz’s and John Kerry’s at their many mansions around the country.”

Earll said Heinz Kerry’s comments also overlooked the job Laura Bush has done as first lady.

“That’s quite a job — being a mother and a first lady,” Earll said. “It’s really an insult to not see the contributions that Laura Bush has made to her family, to her profession and to her nation.”

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  • Michael Foust