Sunday, July 3, 2011

Bachmann: I'll help Obama find a job after I win

American Way: Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin – 'two girls' walking a sexism tightrope

Sarah Palin (left) and Michele Bachmann at the Republican convention in 2008
Sarah Palin (left) and Michele Bachmann at the Republican convention in 2008
It conjured up an image that briefly managed to unite American men on both sides of the American political divide.
“They want to see two girls come together and have a mud wrestling fight,” said Representative Michele Bachmann, when asked by a female voter in Rock Hill, South Carolina about her relationship with Sarah Palin. “And I’m not going to give it to ’em.”
Republican primary races never used to be like this. But the 2012 campaign has brought the first contest to pit against each other two attractive, fervently Christian mothers of five from northern states who began in local politics before eventually setting their sights on Washington.
At least, potentially. Bachmann, a Tea Party heroine with a penchant for the inspired sound bite who has shot to second place in the Republican rankings behind Mitt Romney, the front-runner, formally launched her presidential campaign last week.
Palin, the former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate has yet to declare she’s in the 2012 race; but during an appearance in Iowa did nothing to dispel the notion that she, too, was running for the White House.
She was in the Midwestern farm state, where the 2012 Republican contest will begin in February, for the premiere of a hagiographical film about her, The Undefeated. Sporting a Western-style shirt and a rhinestone belt with a large red crucifix buckle, she spent more than half an hour outside the theatre in the small town of Pella as hundreds swarmed around her.
With President Barack Obama’s re-election chances looking shakier by the day, the prospect of a President Bachmann or a President Palin – as the first woman to occupy the Oval Office – is suddenly not so outlandish a notion.
Palin’s decision to travel to Iowa had been last minute. She arrived a few hours after Bachmann formally announced her candidacy in another Iowan small town – her birthplace Waterloo, where her ancestors arrived “in the 1850s and were literally part of the pioneers who felled the trees and created the greatness that is Iowa”.
The appearance of Palin in Bachmann’s slipstream was surely no coincidence. Perhaps the original Mama Grizzly was concerned that her cousin was getting a little too adventurous.
Although the two women profess to be good friends, their aides and even families are apt to snipe at each other. Palin’s advisers were apoplectic when Ed Rollins, Bachmann’s campaign manager, dismissed Palin as “not serious”.
The day after the Iowa film premiere, Palin’s daughter Bristol, 20, used an interview about her memoir “Not Afraid of Life: My Journey So Far” to make a catty comment about Bachmann. “I think she dresses a lot like my mom,” she told a blogger.
There should be at least a smidgen of sisterly solidarity, particularly after Bachmann faced a media onslaught that began last week with Chris Wallace of Fox News asking her in an interview: “Are you a flake?” The question gave her the perfect opportunity to reel off her credentials as a 55-year-old lawyer (Palin is eight years younger) with a postdoctoral degree in tax law who had helped raise 23 stepchildren as well as five of her own offspring.
She emphasised that she was a member of the House Intelligence Committee, founder of the Tea Party Caucus on Capitol Hill, an opponent – against her party’s wishes – of the Obama stimulus plan, which she voted against, and sponsor of the first bill to repeal the hated Obama health care reform.
All this was calculated to differentiate her from Palin, who no longer holds elected office and has a modest academic record and no foreign policy experience.
All last week, every utterance of Bachmann was dissected mercilessly. She was derided for saying that John Wayne was from Waterloo when in fact it was the homosexual serial killer John Wayne Gacy who had lived there.
George Stephanopoulos went after her on ABC News for stating that the Founding Fathers, two of them slave owners, had worked to end slavery. Even some liberals accused her critics of sexism.
But some of the Bachmann utterances most mocked in Washington and New York have been wildly popular among conservatives in the heartland.
When she said on MSNBC that she was “very concerned” that Mr Obama “may have anti-American views”, campaign contributions poured in; last year she raised $13.5 million, more than any member of the House of Representatives.
Gender works both ways. “Because they’re female, Bachmann and Palin have been able to say things that men can no longer get away with,” John Feehery, a Republican consultant, told me. “Their rhetoric, the lashings they give Obama, is extraordinarily tough.
“They are in many ways putting on the pants, which is emblematic of what’s going on in American society. The unemployment rate among women is fairly low compared to the unemployment rate among men.”
But there is also a heightened danger for women candidates that they can be defined as extreme or stupid, which could be the kiss of death in a general election against Mr Obama. While the “mud wrestling” comment was accurate, it hardly furthered Mrs Bachmann’s aim of proving her more...

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