As I told K-Lo, Michele Bachmann’s commanding performance in last week’s Republican presidential debate sealed a political evolution that has been fomenting for some time: the diminution of feminism and the evolution of femininity.
In filing her papers, Bachmann became the first serious female U.S. presidential candidate who is neither a career politician nor married to one. She has an everywoman appeal that connects her to millions of Americans; she is accessible, authentic, and affable. She is passionate but not angry; intelligent but plain-spoken. Like many women, she came to her beliefs through a series of events and over a number of years. She has been a Democrat, a Republican, a tax attorney, a businesswoman, a mother of five, and a foster mother to 23 others.
Bachmann is not alone. 2010 was rightly called the “Year of the Conservative Woman,” with record numbers of right-leaning women winning state and federal elective office. What’s more, it was the year of the conservative woman voter. Women comprised a majority of the electorate that produced historic gains for the GOP, and for the first time since pollsters have been tracking it, women favored Republicans over Democrats for Congress. That was a huge turnaround from the 56 percent who voted for President Obama two short years earlier. Millions of women identify with the Tea Party and women are much more likely to call themselves “conservative” than “liberal.” Their elevation of Republicans was consonant with their rejection of bailouts, spending, government expansion, and the tipping point, health-care reform. Women have married their microeconomic sensibilities with macroeconomic savvy.
Contrast this with the way the Left regards and communicates with women. Newly installed Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz has stuck her stilettos in her mouth a few times already. Saying the GOP is waging a “war on women,” and pledging to recapture women voters by talking about “pay equity” and “reproductive rights,” she offered little hope and no change from the tired, harsh, outdated feminist playbook. These are not the issues that defined 2010 (or 2008 for that matter), and it is tough to imagine a critical mass of Americans women responding kindly to to gloom and doom rather than optimism and opportunity.
Which brings us back to Bachmann. She seems the happy warrior, even as she takes on President Obama’s policies frontally and unapologetically. She neither leads with her gender nor believes it entitles her to special treatment. She stood shoulder to shoulder with men of accomplishment and intelligence on the debate stage because she earned it, based on what she believes, not on what gender she is. That’s a great lesson for my three small daughters (and their brother in fact) and a cause for celebration. And it reminds me of the incomparable Margaret Thatcher’s quote, “Power is like being a lady — if you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.”
— Kellyanne Conway is president of The Polling Company.