For the first time in either a Presidential or Vice Presidential debate, the candidates delved into women's issues last night.

That was bad news for Romney, who had magically erased Obama's advantage with women voters after the first debate--which was completely free of women's issues.

Moderator Candy Crowley steered the candidates right to the edge of the gender gap when she called on a woman who asked a question about pay equity.

Obama reminded the audience that one of his first acts as President was to sign the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

Mitt Romney, whose party has been denying the existence of the pay gap for years, gave a weird answer, spurring a torrent of social media satire, and plunging him right off the cliff.

When he became governor of Massachusetts, Romney said, he wanted to get more women into cabinet positions:

"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? . . . . 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!"

Binders full of women?

Something about Mitt's awkward phrasing--reminiscent of Ann Romney's "I love you, women!"-- tickled comedians from coast to coast.

On Twitter, Salon political writer Alex Pareene immediately flagged it: "Binders?"

"Get back in your binder!" Stephanie Miller was joking with female callers on her radio show this morning.

A Facebook page, "Binders full of women," had 273,198 "likes" by 10 a.m.

Among the posts: "The 3-hole-punch here is poking holes in women's rights: desire to repeal Roe v. W, getting rid of Planned Parenthood, and in Paul Ryan's case, voting against the Fair Pay Act."

But the best follow-up came from David Bernstein, who fact-checked Mitt's binder remark and found that it wasn't even true.

Romney's binder full of women was actually provided to him by a group called MassGAP, formed to address the problem of few women in leadership in state government.

Romney took the binder, appointed some of the women recommended by the groups involved, including the Massachusetts Women's Political Caucus, mostly to head agencies he didn't care about, Bernstein reports.

Finally, Bernstein reports: "A UMass-Boston study found that the percentage of senior-level appointed positions held by women actually declined throughout the Romney administration, from 30.0% prior to his taking office, to 29.7% in July 2004, to 27.6% near the end of his term in November 2006"

So much for the binder approach to pay equity.

On this issue -- like others affecting women, including Romney's surprise reversal in the debate, when he declared, confusingly, that employers and the government should not block women's access to contraception and that he believes all women need contraception access--the Republican candidate has a serious credibility gap.

Romney's bullying style in the debate--toward both President Obama and Candy Crowley--doesn't play well with women, either.

My prediction: after the debate last night, the gender gap opens back up.

If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of The Progressive, check out her story "Joe Biden's Class Act."

Follow Ruth Conniff @rconniff on Twitter

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Trump's politics are not the problem.

The fiery Milwaukee Sheriff is on the shortlist to head the Department of Homeland Security.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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