‘Are you a flake?” With that question on Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace may have given a rallying cry to the new feminist revolution in American politics. Except this time, the favored f-word of faux liberation will likely be nowhere to be seen.
Wallace apologized, and, in a sense, the controversy is over. But only for him. He was merely hitching on to a narrative that was already popular in the media’s coverage of Michele Bachmann: This former tax attorney and third-term Minnesota congresswoman — who withstood a dedicated national campaign to defeat her last time around — is supposedly a dim bulb. That’s why she and Wallace were even having the conversation in the first place, and why she was in the position of having to explain to him, “I’m a serious person.”
The Wallace question encapsulates the attitude that drives Bachmann’s defenders crazy. There’s something more than a wee bit patronizing about the media’s treatment of both her and Sarah Palin.
“What did Bachmann do to set the lefty blogs afire today?” my colleague Jim Geraghty recently asked. “Split an infinitive? Dangle a participle? Order red wine with fish? Wear white after Labor Day?” As Democrat Kirsten Powers recently noted: “If Joe Biden’s gaffes had received half the attention of Bachmann’s, nobody would take him seriously, either.”
Legitimate scrutiny for candidates is welcome, of course. If the media had turned it on for then-senator Barack Obama, he wouldn’t be a president in over his head today.
But the scrutiny Bachmann receives is way beyond anything Veep Joe knows. They question her very sanity. “Are you hypnotized?” Chris Matthews asked Bachmann last November. Later he would refer to her as a “balloon head.”
From Andrew Breitbart to Bill Bennett, there has been a gentlemanly rush to defend these political ladies against the onslaught. While Democrats drone on about a “War on Women,” one could argue they actually wage one, in more ways than one.
Is it sexism? It’s an interesting question. It surely is a curious thing: After decades of insistence that women have “equal rights” even when that really means special rights to ensure that the numbers of women in executive and other jobs are what a good redistributionist would like — never mind the choices women themselves make — it appears that the women who are on the rise in electoral politics are not exactly the type of women that longtime “Woman for President” campaigners had in mind.
In their 2000 book, Madam President: Shattering the Last Glass Ceiling, Eleanor Clift and her husband, the late Tom Brazaitis, wrote: “Political analysts believe the first woman president will be a ‘Sister Mister,’ having the body of a woman with the character traits of a man. More than likely she will come from the moderate-to-conservative segment of the ideological spectrum.” “Women,” they continued, “frequently go too far in proving their toughness. Seeking credibility, they cater to men’s issues — military defense and the economy — sometimes at the expense of losing touch with their natural constituency of women.”
But that’s long been the problem with political catering to women. Women don’t all want that. In the run-up to November’s midterm elections, one poll found 57 percent of women saying “the private sector has better ideas than the federal government about how to improve the economy and create jobs.” And the economy and jobs are what motivated so many right-leaning women to become engaged in what has become known as the tea-party movement. (Single women tend to be another story.)
I’m partial to something then-governor Sarah Palin said just before she became the center of attacks: “Perceived whine . . . doesn’t do us any good . . . women in politics, or women in general.” We don’t need whine, we need solutions. Reform. Spending discipline. Seriousness. The unemployed are probably more interested in that than in academic discussions about feminism or media gotcha games.
Phyllis Schlafly was a pro-life, conservative woman in politics long before such a creature made it through the media’s filter. She declares her love for Sarah Palin, but has little patience when Palin (or anyone else, for that matter) tries to give new life and meaning to the word “feminist.” It’s a word she wants to make “a pejorative.”
For her part, Michele Bachmann seems to have little interest in using or otherwise talking about the f-word. When Kirsten Powers pressed her in a recent interview, Bachmann called herself an “empowered American” — as “pro-man” as she is “pro-woman.” She said: “I’m a woman comfortable in her own skin. I grew up with three brothers. My parents didn’t see us [as] limited [by gender]. I would mow the lawn and take out the trash; I was making my own fishing lures. I went along with everything the boys did.”
As she does now, with a feminine touch. No “feminist” and no “Mister Sister.” She’s just another candidate, bringing her gifts, natural and otherwise, to the stage. That’s not flaky, that’s just where we ought to be.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. This column is available exclusively through United Media.