‘I’ve given birth to five babies, and I’ve taken 23 foster children into my home,” Michele Bachman explained from the stage of the first major Republican presidential primary debate of the 2012 season.
Jon Stewart would joke the next day that Bachmann was the winner of the primary “baby-off.” Imagining himself moderator, The Daily Show host added: “And I just wanna ask everyone else here up on the dais, Have you ever had to divide a birthday cake into 28 equal pieces?”
The Minnesota congresswoman was answering a question about abortion and brandishing her most authentic credentials as an embodiment of those God-given rights America was established to protect. She also underscored one of the ways she is a formidable challenge to conventional media narratives about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — a woman who fearlessly and credibly calls President Obama on the “shocking” lack of empathy that his policies demonstrate. She represents a continuing, promising threat to the prevailing view of what exactly social justice (see www.seeksocialjustice.com) and even feminism is.
The entrance of Sarah Palin onto the national political scene in 2008 marked a milestone: No longer could the mainstream media pretend that women in politics were all about liberal Democrats, wedded to the so-called ‘women’s issue,’ legal abortion. Now a candidate for the presidency, Bachmann drives that point home.
“Michele Bachmann’s commanding presence and performance in the debate sealed a political evolution that has been fomenting for some time: the diminution of feminism and the evolution of femininity,” Kellyanne Conway, president of the polling company, says.
It’s about time. Polls consistently show that the majority of the country leans toward being pro-life — it’s why advocates of legal abortion will talk about making it “rare.” We’re a country that knows that abortion is not a good. And even 57 percent of “pro-choice” women in New York City think the 41 percent abortion rate there is outrageous, according to a McLaughlin & Associates poll done for the Chiaroscuro Foundation this spring.
Bachmann’s prominence makes it “harder for liberals to insist that women cannot advance without abortion,” Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women of America says. “Sandra Day O’Connor’s basis for the Casey decision — that women rely on abortion, even build their lives and careers around the availability of abortion — is shot. Bachmann proves that “woman’s issues” are not limited to abortion and government-enforced privileges for women in the workplace. Nor that a woman needs either to succeed.”
Gone, too, are the days of the faux pioneer. In 2000, Laura Ingraham called it The Hillary Trap, at the time the first lady was launching her political career. “She wanted to be seen as the strong, assertive, mature feminist, but she advocated policies that were guaranteed to keep women as dependent on government, unions, and even the United Nations as she was on Bill.”
“In filing her papers, Bachmann became the first serious female U.S. presidential candidate who is neither a career politician nor married to one,” Conway says about the former Democrat. “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 plainspoken. Like many woman, she came to her beliefs through a series of events and over a number of years.”
She represents the Tea Party movement at its empowering best. As Conway recalls:
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 constituted 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.
It’s a far cry from the “war on women” rhetoric Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz is stuck on, clinging to what Conway calls “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 American women responding kindly to gloom and doom rather than optimism and opportunity,” Conway warns.
Bachmann “seems the happy warrior, even as she takes on President Obama’s policies unapologetically. She neither leads with her gender nor believes it entitles her to special treatment,” Conway observes. The primary season is young and, as it should be, Bachmann will have to compete with the guys for the nomination. But it’s easy to see her appeal. And it’s important to acknowledge what she represents: a culture coming out of a lie. Liberal feminism, with its addiction to abortion and its bullying of men, was never what American women and men — and certainly the American family — needed. Despite some of the best of its intentions, it was mixed up in eugenics and disloyal to the legacy of the suffragette movement, a failed experiment in remaking reality that has left a trail of misery.
Bachmann may have won the baby-off, but her husband would have, too, if he were the candidate. They earned it. And that’s an early message of the Bachmann candidacy: We girls can be confident, feminine, life-affirming complements to men at home, in school, at work, and in politics. And even be pro-life conservatives. We’ve come a long way, baby.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. This column is available exclusively through United Media.