Illustration by Amanda Alten.

To begin, I’d like to congratulate Newt Gingrich on his presidential campaign. Seeing as how the former Speaker of the House just recently called it quits it has become official: Mitt Romney is now the virtually unchallenged face of the Republican Party. The race for the White House is now Obama vs. Romney, the partisan battle of Democrat vs. Republican, and universal healthcare against the free market.

But what has really been keeping me up at night is not the arguments each side seems to be so fond of — what the economy is doing, how great killing Osama Bin Laden was, or how many Cadillacs it takes for Mr. Romney to own to be a true American.

No, I’ve been spending my time during this political race thinking about nothing but women.

If you missed Meet the Press a couple weeks ago, I highly recommend you take the time to watch political talk show host Rachel Maddow and prominent Republican strategist Alex Castellanos duke it out over gender-based wage discrepancies in America.

When host David Gregory asked Maddow how to frame what it is women want with regard to their president, she gave the simple and sensible answer: “policy.”

Then she went and did something dangerous.

Rachel Maddow brought up a fact, based upon and substantiated by real evidence that was not wrongly interpreted, fabricated or altered in any way. That’s not the dangerous part, though — or at least it wouldn’t have been, had one of the top Republican strategists not been sitting next to her.

I’m going to come right out and say it, in the same words that Ms. Maddow did: On average, women make 77 cents for every dollar that men make. This is a fact, meaning it is either true or false — and in this case, true. There is no advanced economics and no special reasoning that can explain away the fact that discrimination based upon gender is still a very real thing in our job market. Women make less than men, and there is no excuse for why that is, especially when women are getting paid less for the same work men are doing.

Castellanos and a portion of the Republican Party seem to disagree with this, claiming that there are reasons for the wage discrepancy. These reasons, Castellanos believes, can be in part attributed to the types of jobs women tend to take, as opposed to higher-paying jobs in math and science that men are more likely to hold. Math and science pay higher than the humanities, it’s true. But to say that the argument around gender discrimination ends and is explained by career disparity is just plain ignorant.

Sure, there are more men in the sciences when you look at national data, and yes, a career in science generally pays well, but Castellanos and those who agree with him have become satisfied with an answer that only emphasizes the problem. Why is it that there are more men than women in higher-paying jobs? Is this fact that Castellanos brought up not indicative of the very discrimination he is trying to explain away?

I’m not satisfied with the answer that women make less because they just happen to be in lower-paying jobs. Castellanos’ reasoning gives us nothing but evidence that women are not as included in America’s higher-earning jobs as men. This is the definition of gender-based discrimination. Women make less than men, and however you want to frame it, women are discriminated against in this country’s job market.

The facts are hard to deny. On Meet the Press that night, Castellanos reacted to Maddow’s statement by wishing that she be as correct as she is passionate.

To respond in kind, I must say: Mr. Castellanos, passion is beside the point. But I do wish that your ability to recognize a fact when it is put in front of you could be more like your steady supply of self-righteousness.