Editor's note: Ilyse Hogue is co-director of Friends of Democracy, a super PAC aimed at electing candidates who champion campaign finance reform. She is the former director of political advocacy and communications for MoveOn.org and has been a senior strategist to Democratic and progressive groups, including Media Matters for America, Public Campaign and Rebuild the Dream. She is a regular contributor to The Nation magazine.
(CNN) -- The image makers were in overdrive at the Republican National Convention this week. They finally had their candidate but now they had a problem: The guy wasn't likable. And nowhere was that problem more acute than with women voters.
Concerns about Mitt Romney's slash-and-burn economic approach at Bain Capital, coupled with displays on the campaign trail of his stunning lack of empathy had shaken confidence among women voters. Add in the wound reopened when Senate candidate Todd Akin spoke aloud the GOP's twisted ideas about women and rape and pregnancy, and the mandate to the handlers was infinitely clear: Make every night Ladies' Night at the Mirage in Tampa.
The show kicked off with Ann Romney headlining the first night. Her speech overflowed with love for her husband and family, and she deftly attempted to transfer those warm and fuzzy feelings to the women viewers. "I love you women! I hear your voices," she shouted at us as her husband's proxy. Throughout the week, prominent women, such as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, headlined high profile events.
Vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan regaled us with tales of his truly amazing mom. And as Romney prepared to take the stage on the final night, a soft-focus video brought the love between Ann and Mitt into full technicolor, while walk-ons from women of lesser stature were scattered throughout at a reassuring pace.
By prime time, we couldn't miss the marquee message: Mitt loves women, so keep calm and carry on. Mitt's largely biographical speech was light on substance and long on references to the ladies who had shaped him and supported his career, including those in senior leadership of his governor's cabinet. His shout out to South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who had appeared that week on the dais, gave him an opportunity to invoke his mother's posthumous approval of how far women have come.
Then, in a deluge of red, white and blue balloons, the pretty show ended and the workers began to dismantle the Mirage, leaving the harsh sunlight of the day-after to reveal the intractable reality of what a Romney-Ryan presidency would mean for American women.
Women voters care most about the economy and jobs. But with a critical caveat: nine out of 10 women say that a candidate must "understand women." To do that requires an acknowledgment of two things: that women's economic security -- by almost every measure -- still lags behind that of male counterparts and that their economic security is inextricably tied to their ability to control their health, including reproductive choices. And on those points, no illusions and tradesman's tricks can obscure the fact that the GOP agenda fails the test.
A July National Women's Law Center report showed that the 2007 Bush recession cost nearly 7.5 million jobs and recovery has been slow to reach women workers. Public sector job loss drives this disparity.
While Romney's jobs plan is still notoriously vague, with little to offer other than a regressive nod to trickle-down economics, Paul Ryan has been frighteningly clear that his top priority is essentially dismantling our government -- a fixation projected to result in a whopping 4.1 million lost jobs over two years. Even the lucky few women who hold or get jobs under a Romney-Ryan administration are likely to be paid far less for equal work. In the aggregate, women are paid on average 77 cents on the dollar to men, but Romney still refuses to support the Lilly Ledbetter Pay Check Fairness Act.
What of the women who can't get jobs? They can look forward to victimization and vilification. The 24 million women who live in poverty in America span all ethnic groups, with single moms twice as likely to be poor as single dads. Still, Ryan has proposed cutting nutrition assistance to these households, often the only thing that stands between them and malnutrition. Romney has not disagreed. Meanwhile, in a cynical race play, the Romney campaign's deceptive ad campaign attacking welfare recipients has denigrated these women instead of offering solutions.
Adding insult to injury, Romney's Republican platform includes an extremist anti-abortion amendment that removes exemptions even for rape and incest victims. A party that eliminates a woman's right to choose while at the same time cutting pay, jobs, and access to health care and food security exposes a bizarre and dangerous lack of understanding of the challenges facing American women.
No matter how much love bounced around the walls of the Tampa Mirage, in real life, lip service and speeches -- even by women -- don't feed the family. What women need is a sober assessment of how economic challenges uniquely affect us and solutions that reflect that understanding. And despite their best efforts over the last week, that's one promise that a Romney-Ryan presidency can't deliver.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ilyse Hogue.