Why Michelle Bachmann is No Fun to Pick On

Sarah Palin spoiled the media. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say she spoiled the public, who spoiled the media with their patronage whenever they covered her. In either case, the woman was endlessly fascinating. From that line in her 2008 RNC convention speech about not seeking the media’s good opinion, she assumed a fighting stance that could turn into plain insolence. When Joe Biden heard her ask him if she could call him Joe, he must have harumphed to himself that he’d been serving in the Senate since she was in a training bra, and that for her to be in a position to call him anything was a national scandal.

Since then, she’s been predictably unpredictable, re-writing her 2008 campaign itinerary, resigning Alaska’s governorship, tweeting to the masses, starring in a TLC reality show. With each of these moves, detractors told themselves that here, at last, was proof positive that she was an unelectable flake. But there remained the fear that what looked like self–indulgence might also represent a revolutionary approach to campaigning. Until recently, it seemed quite possible that Palin might, in the end, ascend the presidential podium to the strains of “My Way.”

With Michelle Bachmann, the GOP’s new front-runner, the formula just doesn’t work. Maybe it should. Bachmann has all the raw materials of Palinhood. As a conservative woman who opposes abortion and gay marriage, she’s fishing with the same bait that served Palin so well. If anything, Bachmann’s explicit and wholesale rejection of feminism sets her well to Palin’s right. If the media were the master agenda-setters and opinion-makers their critics take them for, then Bachmann’s strong showing in the Iowa straw poll should have raised her profile to Palinesque heights. But it hasn’t. Bachmann might yet be president, but she’ll never be a star.

In Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi sums it up very neatly when he said that Bachmann is “the right kind of…crazy.” He means that, while her views may be extreme, her behavior is utterly conventional. As a speaker, she’s upbeat but dignified, warm but restrained, optimistic but not messianic. In Iowa, she praised “John Wayne’s America,” which strikes Salon’s Alex Pareene as “not far from being a white-supremacist dog whistle.” Pareene could be right — the Duke did fight Native Americans and Japanese — but delivered without a wide-eyed barracuda grin, the point just doesn’t carry.

Dwelling overlong on a female candidate’s appearance is dirty pool, but it’s still part of the game as we know it. (At least it’s a bipartisan affair: searching Google for “Hillary + Clinton + Cankles” turns up 24,500 results.) Whereas Sarah Palin has been compared to a sexy librarian and a slutty flight attendant, Taibbi once again has Bachmann’s number when he compares her to a Stepford wife — meaning, she’s well-maintained, even-featured and soignée, but not in any way saucy.

This week, Palin appears on the cover of Newsweek in a form-fitting sweatshirt. She is thrusting her bowsprit toward the camera — and toward the reader. Bachmann might one day feel obliged to follow suit. Newsweek’s Julia Baird warns of “an insistent, increasingly excitable focus on the supposed hotness of Republican women in the public eye.” But Bachmann’s heart wouldn’t be in it, any more than shooting the breeze over a Yngling beer likely engaged Obama’s. When Palin first emerged on the national stage, Abstinence Teacher author Tom Perrotta wrote that she embodied a familiar American archetype, the sexy puritan. “Sexy Puritans,“ Perrotta explains:

“engage in the culture war on two levels—not simply by advocating conservative positions on hot-button social issues but by embodying nonthreatening mainstream standards of female beauty and behavior at the same time. The net result is a paradox, a bit of cognitive dissonance very useful to the cultural right: You get a little thrill along with your traditional values, a wink along with the wagging finger.”

Not bad for a start, but Perrotta fails to acknowledge diversity within the species. It’s hard to pull off both halves of the act — the wink and the wagged finger — with equal conviction. It’s natural to stress one over the other. If Palin, like the young Britney Spears, is more of a winker, Bachmann, like Anita Bryant, is more of a wagger. That may be the safer choice. Waggers may be less eye-catching than winkers, but they’re also less vulnerable to charges of manipulation.

Compared to Palin’s, Bachmann’s gaffes are also less titillating. Though Palin does not lack for native intelligence, her knowledge has always been practical and parochial. In Blind Allegiance: A Memoir of Our Tumultuous Years, former Palin aide Frank Bailey claims Palin fumbled Katie Couric’s infamous question — “Which papers do you read?” — because an honest answer would have consisted solely of Alaskan papers. Palin came to seem, in Peggy Noonan’s words, “rather proud” to be judged ignorant by the media, since “it was proof of her authenticity.” Henry Ford dismissed history as bunk; Palin might add half a dozen other disciplines to the list. It’s as though she’s waging war on knowledge as we know it.

Aside from her perhaps over-publicized confusion regarding men named John, Bachmann is bedeviled most by details. And even that may be her choice. Of the “Top 12 Bachmann Gaffes” listed by newser, most look more than anything like spin, or strategic misrepresentation. For example, Bachmann once stated that, in 1961, the national debt came only to $300 billion, and a gallon of gasoline sold for only $0.31. True enough, says newser, until you adjust for inflation. Then, gas prices start to look more like $2.25. The debt still accounted for 55% of our GDP. “So she has a point,” concludes newswer, “but the difference is not nearly as dramatic as she’s implying.” Still awake?

And in her own subtle way, Bachmann is bedeviling the media. Since her trip to Iowa, many of Palin’s old enemies have offered Bachmann Palin’s seat of danger. In reporting her mixing-up of John Wayne’s birthplace with John Wayne Gacy’s, Salon photoshopped a clown’s nose — presumably a reference to Gacy’s favorite legal creative outlet — onto Bachmann’s picture. Playing the closest thing they could find to the Bristol card, or even the Trig birther card, Jon Stewart and Dan Savage have suggested, with varying degrees of earnestness, that Bachmann’s husband Marcus is gay.

But it doesn’t seem to be taking — not really. In contrast to Palin’s approach, Bachmann hasn’t swung back or made any serious attempt to rally her troops and keep the story going. When called on her misstatement that the Founding Fathers had “worked tirelessly” to end slavery, she smiled serenely, cited John Quincy Adams who had been “a young boy” during the nation’s foundation years, and who worked to end slavery as an adult. For her, that counted. Knowing he was licked, George Stephanopolous moved on to the next question. Like the kid said in the Connect Four commercial, pretty sneaky, Sis.

Heading up Matt Taibbi’s Rolling Stone profile is a caricature in which a a wild-eyed Bachmann, clad in armor, brandishes a sword and a Bible. Except for the Bible, this is not really a picture of Bachmann at all; it’s a picture of Sarah Palin with Bachmann’s face, or something like it. If the media really expect to rattle Bachmann, they’re going to have to put that kind of wishful thinking to bed. They’re dealing with an altogether different animal with altogether different weaknesses. Unless the media can sound those out, they may have to get used to another conservative president who, after the manner of Reagan, dresses for success in Teflon.

UPDATE: Hot Air and Instapundit just linked me. Thank you, kind sirs!

Instapundit:

Hotair:

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  • http://www.facebook.com/fr.petebarnabite Peter Calabrese

    The real Bachman problem is going to be her presence for some years in an apparently anti-Catholic church. Catholic commentators are beginning to speak of this and they are going to be evenhanded enough to hold her accountable for it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joe-Kliplinger/100002447474822 Joe Kliplinger

    I want to hear how Bachman’s pastor hated America just like Obama’s pastor. I want video showing Bachman wasn’t proud of America like Obama’s wife not proud to be American. I want to see dirt of Bachman association with terrorrist like Obama association with Bill Ayer. I want to see Bachman involvement with political horse trading just like Obama Chicago political machine. There will be more dirt, I hope the mainstream press will keep their vigilance.

  • Etain Peregrine

    So wait. Obama spending twenty years in a racist church is NOT newsworthy or worth mentioning at all and if you do you’re an evil nazi racist, but Bachmann resigning a controversial church she hasn’t gone to in two years anyway… that’s worth talking about? I mean… I know the leftist press is completely hypocritical but come on.

  • Etain Peregrine

    So wait. Obama spending twenty years in a racist church is NOT newsworthy or worth mentioning at all and if you do you’re an evil nazi racist, but Bachmann resigning a controversial church she hasn’t gone to in two years anyway… that’s worth talking about? I mean… I know the leftist press is completely hypocritical but come on.

  • http://classicalvalues.com TallDave

    Yeah, that seems unlikely Peter. Our President spent two decades in an apparently black supremacist church.

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  • Rockhead

    As even handed as they were with Jeremiah Wright?

  • Rockhead

    As even handed as they were with Jeremiah Wright?

  • Rockhead

    As even handed as they were with Jeremiah Wright?

  • Anonymous

    So you’re discovering that not all conservative women are the same? Good for you.

  • Anonymous

    What papers do you read? I don’t read any. I get all my news from the internet, and local news via the grapevine.

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  • Anonymous

    Except for the Bible, this is not really a picture of Bachmann at all; it’s a picture of Sarah Palin with Bachmann’s face, or something like it.

    …Perhaps a picture of the Liberals’ version of Palin with Bachmann’s face? We don’t look to the Left for a lot of originality.

  • Anonymous

    Congrats on the Instalanche! You’ve hit the big time now :)

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_4KZ6KOO5ZIHALSBL5U6AV3Z2HQ Cara C

    “Bachmann’s explicit and wholesale rejection of feminism”? She is a successful congresswoman running for president. It seems to me she is embracing and even embodying some of the key ideals of feminism – that women can participate fully in public life and aspire to roles that used to be reserved only for men.

  • Dirkwermund

    I think this writer forgot to change his tampon!!

  • TomHolmes

    You lost me when you referred to Palin and Bachmann as extremists. The only thing extreme about either is the irrational hatred that the left feels for them.

    Palin is a cultural conservative pragmatist – a common sense conservative, where Bachmann is a political and philosophical conservative. Both are unconventional people representing a very conventional approach to government with very conventional values. They are the opposite of extreme. To classify them as extreme in their politics is to demonstrate a complete lack of comprehension of the term.

    Selecting a point between too opposites does not identify a point of non-extremity. It rather identifies an average. To apply this ham-handed metric would lead you to determine that the least extreme piano key is grey. But no, the most conventional of piano keys is white. Both Palin and Bachmann are white piano keys blessed with ample good looks and interesting life stories, but the opposite of extreme.

    What I think about Bachmann and the press’s ability to lay a glove on her is this: The closer she gets to being a lock on the Republican nomination, the more naked will be the legacy media’s willingness to compromise themselves to derail her. In 2012, the media will cause it’s institution credibility more damage than in any prior election cycle, and the contrast will be breathtaking. They will put themselves out of business, regardless of the results of the election. It’s just a matter of time. To think that Bachmann has some magic attribute that will protect her from what is coming is naive. The only way she gets a pass is if she is judged as no threat to Obama. But in 2012, Joe the Plumber would be able to pose a political threat to Obama as his efforts continue to bear their fruit. The knives will come out and the 2012 Republican nominate will come to envy the 2008 Sarah Palin.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_XIQP675FXHTT5GSHVFQHT3TVLI BrianC

    Michele Bachmann is the caricature the media portrayed Sarah Palin to be – much more of a religious zealot, much more gaffe-prone and with about the same thin resume that candidate Obama had in 2008. Plus Bachmann went through six chiefs of staff in less than four years.

    Let’s see if she can withstand the beating Palin has withstood for the past three years.

  • Gordon Winslow

    “In reporting her mixing-up of John Wayne’s birthplace with John Wayne Gacy’s…”

    She mixed up Iowa with Chicago, which is where John Wayne Gacy was born? No, she mixed up where John Wayne’s parents were from and met with where John Wayne was born. That Gacy once lived in the same town as John Wayne’s parents is a coincidence that Bachmann was almost certainly unaware of.

    Some left-wing rag saw that John Wayne Gacy once lived in Waterloo, Iowa, made a phony connection, and a bunch of people, the author of this piece included, uncritically fell for it because they don’t like Michelle Bachmann.

    Her slip-up is minor. The promotion of the lie that she confused John Wayne (who was at least born in Iowa) with John Wayne Gacy is either malicious or stupid. Maybe both.

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  • Cakarn

    Lindenman mentions in clarifying to Taibbi’s article in Rolling Stone that Bachman’s views are extreme. Others have said the same thing, but I don’t understand that. Her views are mainstream conservative, not extreme. Small government, low taxes, pro-life, against gay marriage, pro free market, strong national defense, etc.

    I don’t see anything extreme there. I know the liberal media might think they are extreme because her views do not fit their paradigm (eg, Taibbi), but they are not extreme to regular Americans.

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  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous

    Oxymoron isn’t it, she started a business, she started a charter school, went to law school, practiced law, state house and now congresswoman, and she rejects feminism?? Cuz she doesn’t believe in abortion????

  • Anonymous

    You are a joke to think Bachmann and her degaying business is the front runner. In one month you and your clowns will see who the front runner is.

    Keep it real you nutjob.

  • Anonymous

    Good try Comrade. America has had enough of your Liberal, snobby, elitist, Communist, socialist, progressive, Godless,
    crap. We have lost to many good decent young men and women
    in the war against America to let you beat us from inside. I have
    seen Michelle talk at our nation’s capitol wether it was thousands
    or hundreds or even 20 or 30 of us. No matter her religious affiliation she understands what is at stake here. I’m a Herman
    Cain supporter at this point. However I would have NO problem
    supporting a great American like Michelle Bachmann. Again good
    try Comrade. Buzzy

  • Anonymous

    “… less vulnerable to charges of manipulation.”

    What weight does a charge of manipulation carry, in an age when every political organization is grounded on spin over substance? Besides, in the face of massive wag-the-doggery by both parties and most of their camp followers, Palin’s reminding Newsweek readers that she has a nice rack isn’t all that manipulative.

  • Anonymous

    “… less vulnerable to charges of manipulation.”

    What weight does a charge of manipulation carry, in an age when every political organization is grounded on spin over substance? Besides, in the face of massive wag-the-doggery by both parties and most of their camp followers, Palin’s reminding Newsweek readers that she has a nice rack isn’t all that manipulative.

  • http://twitter.com/Super_Sachiko Jasmine Clark

    you get several things wrong in this piece, so many i’m not going to spend time writing them all out. and the amout of sexism you have is disturbing. all you seem to care about are sarah palin’s breasts and her bra. it’s creepy and disgusting. what about her policies, her record in alaska? oh yeah i forgot, you rely on frank bailey for info about palin, therefore you don’t know anything about her. all you know are lies.

    oh and btw it’s only a matter of time before palin jumps onto the scene and bachmann implodes. don’t know which will happen first but both will happen. and it will be hilarious.

  • Caroline

    The reason she’s no fun to pick on is that most pop-culture newszines no longer enjoy much influence. Like emissions from a passing bus, they smell, but leave no lasting effect.

  • Michael_steele

    Good post Tom. The thing about Palin/Bachmann is the harder the MSM tries/or is going to try to derail her the more obvious their efforts are going to be. Their sympathy factor should rise and the MSM creditability will tank.

  • Anonymous

    So you are saying Sarah is more charismatic, beautiful, passionate, and libertarian than Michelle. I agree. Palin 2012.

  • Meloratorel

    First, Palin is NOT in a form-fitting sweatshirt on Newsweek. Looks just like a regular exercise/day-off top to me. Second, I’ve followed Palin in the news since she appeared on the scene and her downfall came not from her own doing but the liberal media! They immediately took to insulting her, attacking her family, finding any dirt they could to make her look bad, all the while praising Obama for even the evil things he did (like voting down a bill that would have protected babies accidentally born during an abortion procedure). Palin represented a woman in many respects, especially a working mom and motherhood itself. Secular society hates motherhood today: scoffs at parents who have more than 2 children or does not abort a disabled unborn baby, frowns if a mom decides to actually stay home and raise her own children rather than place them in daycare. Palin, though, working mom, DID support all mothers in my opinion and she tried to match the unbalanced media by challenging them directly. Unfortunately that strategy did not work so well, because the media have many disordered people behind them (ex. very powerful and rich homosexual activists). I’ve noticed right away with the Bachmann campaign, the media are already playing the gay “concern” against her: playing up a counseling method that was offered to ONE patient where her husband works. Has nothing to do with her but they go after her husband’s work instead in order to make Bachmann herself look bad (to the liberals, that is). Why would they try to appeal to less than 1% of the population (the gay population) with information about this? Because either there are very powerful gay businessmen out there (who can withhold donations and sway in other big circles) or the majority of American people are so brainwashed that they feel bad if one gay person who requested to see if he/she can live a heterosexual existence instead (by his own choice).

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_IWYIU2FK23YNDMBLDJMB7WB4HA Mr. DNA

    Comparing Palin and Bachmann is like comparing Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn. Different styles of attractiveness at play. One you might like to take to a nearby motel and shag on the spot and the other bring home to mom.

  • Melora

    I agree TomHolmes about the comment regarding the media and their irrational hatred of them. The media have distorted the image of Palin and now Bachmann from the very beginning so that they appear un-vote-able to the average American. Sadly, many Americans have been brainwashed by the morally liberal media that they believe anything it tells them, even to the point of calling perfectly normal people “extreme”. I don’t agree with Republicans on fiscal matters but I have voted for them when they fight for pro-life issues and morality concerning traditional marriage. Our country is suffering greatly because of the immorality of the Left, pushing for gay marriage and unconditional abortion. It is evil in the form of sheep clothing and continues to feed the American public who (it seems a great majority) are so spiritually (and morally) uneducated that they follow the wolf to the very end.

  • Meloratorel

    Agree! Well, said.

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  • Akabosan

    Relax folks. ‘Tis just another limp lib attempt to drive a wedge between Governor Palin and Representative Bachmann. The only way that works is if we let them bamboozle us more. Keep your powder dry and be ready. Relaxed and prepared are the words of the day. GB

  • momor

    I am not a fan of either Palin or Bachmann, but I think Bachmann has got Palin running scared. Bachmann is Palin without the personal flakyness and dysfunctional family. While Palin was “touring” America on a bus and tweaking the media’s nose, Bachmann threw her hat in the ring and got down to business.

  • diana

    Palin and Bachmann are true feminists. They do what they want, when they want and how they want. The liberal/progressives love to put woman in a box and if they don’t stay in the box they belittle, degrade and try to smear them as often, as possible. Liberal/progressives think all woman must be pro-abortion, pro-entitlement and pro-affirmitive action. And, it the “girl’s” don’t stay in their place they get slapped.

  • jwallin

    Let me get this straight: A black church can condemn other churche/religions for their white supremacy and/or acquiescence to same but a protestant church (actually THE protestant church, the original) that condemns Catholics (who by the way BURNED AND HANGED PROTESTANTS for being protestants) is a no no?

    The Catholic church doesn’t have a record that passes the smell test when it comes to those they deem heretics.

    The Catholic led persecutions were among the MAIN REASONS PROTESTANTS FLED TO AMERICA! So let’s not act as if the Lutheran church is being completely unreasonable.


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