It’s Michele Bachmann’s turn in the spotlight as the fast-rising fresh face in the Republican presidential field, and so far she’s holding up better than Herman Cain did. Surely some of the difference comes from her experience as a successful political candidate. But a great deal of it comes from the fact that she is, as she told Fox News’ Chris Wallace after his lame question, “Are you a flake?”, a serious person.
That’s not at all to suggest Cain isn’t a serious person, only to point out that the reputation of Bachmann coming into this contest is at odds with how she’s performed as a candidate so far. At some point, the political and pundit class is going to have to notice her performance and life experiences and acknowledge it.
Too many people are still in denial, as the ridiculous amount of attention paid to Bachmann’s supposed gaffe Monday about John Wayne’s birthplace demonstrates. It’s not only that this attention is out of whack compared to President Obama’s most recent gaffe, about whether a particular Medal of Honor recipient was alive at the time the award was made. (The list of Obama’s misstatements is not short, even if it hasn’t spurred a book just yet so far as I know, but that’s understandable when someone speaks publicly as much as Obama has — which is one reason I don’t make a big deal of them.)
The Bachmann-gaffe reporters want to portray her not as a poor public speaker but as a dolt. No, it’s more gender-specific than that. They want to portray her — and I think this is the word Wallace meant when he said “flake” — as a ditz. As “Barbie with fangs,” as Washington Post columnist Colby King actually called her last week.
This narratives contradicts everything these reporters — let’s not pretend most of them don’t tend toward left-liberal politics — claim to believe about gender equality and sexism.
Not a single one of them would flinch at saying the sexes are equal. Such a thing doesn’t threaten to undermine their (alleged) objectivity; it underpins it. They would proclaim this belief proudly. And rightfully so.
But they don’t practice this belief when it comes to covering female politicians — excuse me, conservative female politicians. Even the gaffe-tastic Joe Biden doesn’t get the treatment Bachmann and Sarah Palin get.
Speaking of Palin, here’s a second point about Bachmann. What sense of gender equality is promoted by the perpetual linking of Bachmann and Palin? By the conventional wisdom that the 2012 Republican field isn’t big enough for two women? Can you imagine, back in 2008, rumors of a potential Nancy Pelosi run for president spurring such comments as, “Well, she can’t get in unless Hillary Clinton gets out”?
I don’t know whether the Bachmann and Palin haters resent the fact that both women have been successful at balancing their careers and family, or that both remain attractive well past age 40 (Palin is 47, Bachmann 55). But I am certain that they resent the fact that both women defy the left’s preference for — dare I say stereotype of — women who hold the line for abortion rights, among other left-wing policies.
And, getting back to Cain, none of this is even to mention the hatred and slurs directed at a black Republican running for president. (Go to Google and start typing “Herman Cain US Navy,” the branch of the armed services for which he once worked; before you can type the “S,” you’ll get the suggestion “Herman Cain Uncle Tom.”)
While a white guy (Mitt Romney) is the favorite in the nominating contest right now, and another white guy (Rick Perry) is seen by many as having the best chance of defeating Romney, the days of all-white, all-male fields are as over for the GOP as they are for Democrats. Besides Bachmann, Cain and Palin, the coming years very likely will see Republicans such as Sen. Marco Rubio or Govs. Nikki Haley, Bobby Jindal and Susana Martinez competing on the national stage.
Maybe one day, the so-called elites throwing barbs at “Barbie” candidates and tomatoes at “Uncle Toms” will notice.
Housekeeping note: Starting today, I’ll post a “2012 Tuesday” blog about the presidential race each Tuesday around lunchtime. That doesn’t mean I won’t comment on the election on other days, just that you’ll want to come back at this time each Tuesday to read about and discuss the race.
– By Kyle Wingfield