Michele Bachmann’s glass house

By Amanda Marcotte
January 4, 2012

By Amanda Marcotte
The views expressed are her own.

Of all the candidates who rose and fell during the prolonged Republican primary campaign going into Iowa, Michele Bachmann took the wildest ride. Bachmann won the 2011 Ames Straw Poll in August, taking 28 percent of the vote, mainly due to conservative evangelicals who supported her strong anti-abortion views and her ease in speaking Christianese. But a mere five months later, after a disastrous showing in Iowa where she only took 5 percent of the vote, Bachmann is dropping out of the race.

The campaign has blamed sexism for her precipitous fall. It’s an accusation that hasn’t done her any favors with defensive voters, but this may be one of those rare occasions when the Bachmann camp has correctly assessed reality. As a conservative female politician with an evangelical base, Bachmann was forced to hang her ambitions on voters who believe in traditional gender roles. It’s a strategy—a woman who rejects feminism who also wants to use feminism to gain serious power–that causes cognitive dissonance for voters, like fruit-flavored beer. The novelty will generate some sales, but at the end of the day, people will return to the half-dozen other beer-flavored beers available.

The sustained culture war that has created modern conservatism has many aspects to it: homophobia, racialized resentments, hostility to immigration. But anger about feminist gains surely rises to the top, with a special anger reserved for reproductive rights that free women from the kitchen and allow them to compete with men in the workplace. Bachmann herself gloated frequently about her love of traditional male power, noting publicly that she submits to her husband and strictly forbids her daughters to take the lead with boys, forcing them to adopt a strictly passive role in dating. Unsurprisingly, her belief that women should not control when they give birth has been a major platform for her, one she routinely describes as her number one priority.

That these opinions created an initial bout of enthusiasm for Bachmann is unsurprising. For decades now, conservatives have loved an anti-feminist woman, believing, correctly, that having women express hostility to women’s rights dilutes the feminist ideology. Putting anti-feminist views in a woman’s mouth allows conservatives to argue that many women are perfectly happy allowing men to take the lead.  Additionally, anti-feminist women can be used to shame feminists, by asking them why they can’t just accept the status quo like conservative women do. Many pundits and writers have made a career being the woman who opposes women’s empowerment: Phyllis Schlafly, Ann Coulter, Beverly LaHaye, among others. As long as these women’s actions are seen as fundamentally supportive of male dominance, they’re applauded for speaking out, and make money doing it.

The problems arise when anti-feminist women start to seek real power for themselves. Bachmann is far from the first female candidate whose anti-feminist views gained her a flurry of enthusiasm but whose conservative base reneged at the last minute. That base is unable to grant serious power to a woman, no matter how much she promised to use it to disempower other women. Michele Bachmann is simply the latest conservative woman who has found that she’s trapped not under a glass ceiling, but in a glass house: stuck in the role of champion for male control, unable to get a piece of the pie for themselves.

The Bush administration learned about this conundrum when they foolishly thought evangelicals would line up behind an evangelical female anti-abortion Supreme Court nominee in the same way they line up for such women at book signings. It played out differently. An evangelical outcry against Harriet Miers led Bush to make the unusual move of retracting a nominee because of pressure from his own party, and he quickly replaced her with a more standard-issue conservative male nominee, Samuel Alito.

Sarah Palin had a similar trajectory: an initial burst of conservative enthusiasm that turned to serious doubts. Palin saw the writing on the wall and has since retreated from seeking office, instead sticking to the more woman-friendly role of making speeches and writing books. In 2008, Sharron Angle tripped across the contradiction between her hostility to female equality and her own ambitions, and ended up losing the Nevada Senate race to Harry Reid, despite early polling data suggesting he would be an easy candidate to beat. Thirteen percent of voters in exit polls claimed Angle was not conservative enough, a surprisingly high number considering her far-right views, and one that hints at underlying suspicions about women with too much ambition.

Republican women who want a career in politics have usually found more success avoiding the anti-feminist pitch. Only one female Republican Senator, Kelly Ayotte, has much play with the evangelical right, and she managed that feat mainly by running a quiet election in the small and atypical state of New Hampshire. For politicians with aspirations of winning over the Christian right, a better bet is to moderate your ambitions and not vie for prominent federal offices. Many evangelical female Republicans hold governorships and even sit in the House of Representatives. It’s those showy offices with serious political power, such as Supreme Court judgeships, the Senate, and certainly the Presidency, that go a step too far.

Bachmann seems to be aware of the dissonance caused by a female politician running on an anti-feminist platform. During her post-caucus speech last night, she resorted to denying that she possessed that feminist-y quality of ambition, stating, “I am not a politician,” and, “I do not aspire to be a politician.” Clearly, she hopes to convince voters that she’s nothing more than a contented housewife who magically got swept into a suit and behind a podium, running a campaign for President through God’s will, not that of her own. It’s a strategy that was likely never to work—they’re conservatives, not idiots–but certainly at this point, trying to stomp out the contradictions with a neat little bit of dishonesty about the extent of her ambitions is too little, too late.

PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate Congresswoman Michele Bachmann thanks her husband, Marcus Bachmann at her Iowa Caucus night rally in West Des Moines, Iowa, January 3, 2012.  REUTERS/Brian Frank

26 comments

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So you’re saying God gave her the boot early on? If it weren’t for the fact God has no interest in blind political ambition, I’d say you were on to something.

Posted by DisgustedReader | Report as abusive

I don’t know if the average GOP evangelical voter sees the deep personal hypocrisy in women like Bachmann and Palin and others. But, apparently, they are able to realize that some of the stuff that they say is just plain ignorant.

Women like Bachmann accept all the benefits of feminism and equal rights that those rights provide to THEM. What they cannot accept is that other women have different lives and encounter different problems and need to make their own decisions about how to deal with them.

Bachmann, et al, may simply be control freaks. They simply want to dictate to other women what is right for them. They want to legislate how other people should lead their personal lives.

As Christians, you would think they would realize that they could do the most good by living good lives and being good examples of what they consider moral people to be, rather than beat people over the head with their own demands that people accept what they want them to do. And, help people, encourage people in their quests to do better.

These women are in a mutually beneficial relationship that is typical within the GOP, just like blacks like Hermain Cain, Tim Scott and Alan West. The party gets to say: Look at us, aren’t we inclusive?!? while fighting women’s and black rights legislatively. The candidates are prized as trophies that allow the party to say that. It’s sick on both sides.

Posted by emm305 | Report as abusive

This has to be one of the worst commentary pieces I’ve ever seen on here…where to begin:
1) The sneering, condescending view of evangelical Christians. Substitute in any other major block of religious people and this (“Christianese?” seriously, do you take us for Martians or something?) comes across as borderline racist.
2) Lisa Murkowski lost her party’s nomination for Alaska Senate because of a (largely correct in my humble view) perception that she was part of a corrupt political machine and out of touch with her party’s voters – not because of her plumbing. She is a statist, career politician and nowhere near being a genuine evangelical. In a state as conservative as Alaska, the fact that she was able to survive by almost having a worse ACU rating than Ben Nelson, a Democrat, is astounding.
3) I seem to recall two female Senate nominees from the GOP, Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle that initially drew strong support from the very conservative right you accuse of having a problem with women in these positions, garnered serious ridicule from the Democratic party, the DC establishment, the spineless bunch at the RNC, and the media-which seriously undermined their candidacies.
4) I also seem to recall the Dems filibustering two qualified Federal Court nominees in the days of the Bush Administration – Janice Rogers Brown and Priscilla Owen, in the hopes that they would be unable to be picked for the Supreme Court someday (we can’t have a Republican President nominating qualified women or Hispanics, as Miguel Estrada withdrew unfortunately, now can we?)
5) Opposition to Harriet Miers was driven by the fact that her resume was light in terms of legal scholarship and a history of opinions to tell whether or not she could be relied upon to judge based on the merits of the Constitution when interpreting law. (I thought Feminism was about equality/merit? Oh, wait…)
6) You’ve apparently forgotten that Sandra Day-O’Connor, a conservative judge/political heavy hitter from Arizona, was nominated to be the first female SCOTUS AJ by President Ronald Reagan (championed by Sen Barry Goldwater as well) – standard bearers in the Conservative movement.
7) Given all the media scrutiny / bashing etc. (largely from the left/DC media establishment) bestowed upon Sarah Palin, who could blame her for wanting to make money writing books and giving speeches rather than going through the gauntlet again? (Is Katie Couric a man?) I fail to see what this has to do with the GOP wanting women back in the kitchen, when many conservatives would love to see her jump in the race. Can’t have your cake and eat it too (but then that would seem to tbe the objective of your feminist movement now, wouldn’t it?)
8) Hillary Clinton. If I need to explain this you need to switch careers.
9) Many Conservatives that you accuse of wanting women back in the kitchen have seriously considered a “Draft Condi” movement (1st Female Sec of State – ala GW Bush) for President and she may be on the ticket as VP.
10) Michelle Bachmann was perceived as lacking gravitas as a back bencher by running for President. You clearly understand little about Presidential politics if you think governorships lack power or paths to the top – Nikki Haley could be a serious candidate at some point in the future for Pres. or VP, as most Presidents of late have been governors. (Except for our current one…and gee isn’t that turning out swell?)

Posted by AntoniusBlock | Report as abusive

Correction/modifier on Condi Rice…should say “First African American Female” Sec of State

Posted by AntoniusBlock | Report as abusive

Brilliantly insightful piece!

The political ambitions of evangelical women are denied by the very set of entrenched “Christian” fundamentalist ideologies that they seek to champion.

Welcome to the world of the American Taliban.

Posted by jrpardinas | Report as abusive

It is no big secret those like Bachmann and the amazing ‘Frothy Mix’ would have us in some 14th century theocracy waging Holy War against the Muslims in Jerusalem while praying and waiting patiently for Armageddon to come given half a chance.

For those of you getting your conservative panties in a twist, if you read, she is leveling the beam squarely at Evangelical fundies at the extremes. Be they a minority or not, they are still nauseatingly vocal. Can’t we just carve out an area in the middle of Nebraska and ship them all there so they can have their fundie Utopia and left the rest of us the Hell alone?

Posted by Sinestar | Report as abusive