If I had a dollar for every time a Sarah Palin supporter accused me of not taking her seriously because I’m jealous of attractive women who’ve combined powerful careers with large families, I’d be in another tax bracket, one that might encourage me to vote for Ron Paul.
Now Michele Bachmann just might shut that crowd up.
She’s another attractive conservative mom, and guess what? A whole lot of people, including me, are taking her seriously.
Sure, if you’re a progressive, she’s scary. She’s on record comparing the gay and lesbian lifestyle to bondage; she also claims there are “hundreds and hundreds of scientists, many of them holding Nobel Prizes, who believe in ‘intelligent design.’”
But despite what “Saturday Night Live” thinks, she knows which camera to look at when she’s on TV. She also hasn’t resigned from public office in order to raise her public profile. As much as it pains me to say it, she’s articulate and disciplined. She seems like an adult. These aren’t traits we necessarily associate with Palin.
Bachmann does take a page straight from the Palin playbook when she describes herself as “first and foremost a mother,” but she steers clear of Palin’s suggestion that being a mother is in and of itself a qualification for high office.
Maybe that’s because Bachmann’s identity as a mother (which includes taking in 23 foster children over the years) comes from the same place as her identity as a policymaker: a lifelong dedication to fundamentalist evangelical Christianity. She got into politics because she disapproved of the public school curriculum being taught to her foster kids (her own children were home-schooled and then attended private Christian schools). She ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the local school board. Since then, Bachmann, with her Bible-based ideology, has won every race she has entered.
“She has never wavered from who she is,” Mary Cecconi, a public education advocate who defeated Bachmann in the school board race, told Bloomberg News last month. And in a much-circulated story in the Daily Beast last week, conservative Christian leader Ralph Reed also alluded to Bachmann’s consistency, noting that her “authentic faith testimony” could appeal to Christian voters seeking an alternative to the more moderate GOP candidates.
It’s the word “authentic” that stands out here. I find Bachmann’s extremism reprehensible, but you’ve got to give her this: She’s genuine about it. She doesn’t favor empty publicity stunts over lawmaking. Bachmann is a believer in every sense of the word. She believes what the Bible says, and she believes what she says, including that Glenn Beck can solve the debt crisis. And even though she’s made it clear that she’s sought God’s counsel in every campaign she’s waged, she also hired legendary strategist Ed Rollins for this one.
That suggests a level of accountability for her views and personal choices that we’ve rarely seen from Palin, who gives the impression that she’s too down-home for fancy advisors. The Palin narrative, after all, is in the “gee whiz, how’d this happen?” vein. She’s a hockey mom first, not a mayor, governor or historian. Her teenage daughter’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy resulted not from inadequate parenting or a broken educational system but just because, the Palin camp seemed to imply, she was part of an ordinary imperfect American family with ordinary challenges.
I could be wrong, but something tells me that kind of rationale wouldn’t fly in the Bachmann household, which, as far as we know, has produced more than its share of upstanding young people (one of Bachmann’s son has taught with Teach for America; another just finished medical school). Conservative voters smitten by Palin’s grizzly mama idea ― who desperately want to believe that she could be a “good Christian,” raise a passel of babies, shoot moose and run a country all at the same time ― must surely by now find Palin’s coy bus tour and reports of her new marble-floored desert digs not only disappointing but insulting. That’s why Bachmann is in such an advantageous position at the moment.
It remains to be seen what kind of dirt will be dug up on Bachmann (no doubt Andrew Sullivan is breaking ground as we speak). But so far, she’s running a tighter, more coherent ship than Palin ever has. Don’t count on it to sink anytime soon.
By Meghan Daum
Meghan Daum, an essayist and novelist, is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. ― Ed.
(Los Angeles Times/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services)