The New York Times has learned, possibly exclusively, that Michele Bachmann is a female of the species running for president. And so, like so many chaperones on a middle-school field trip or biologists in the field, we will watch “as a mostly male field of candidates engages, sometimes awkwardly and sometimes gingerly, with a female presidential candidate.”
As in 2008, with Hillary Clinton’s primary run, the big existential question will be whether the country “is ready” for a female president, and a sub-concern will be how the media covers a female candidate. Much of the coverage (and conflation) of Sarah Palin and Bachmann certainly seems at the very least retrograde — will one attractive brunette siphon votes from the other?
Already, of course, Chris Wallace has caught flak for Flakegate, which many have called sexist. Wallace’s ill-advised question and the blowback from it previewed the problem Bachmann’s opponents will face: She is given, perhaps more than anyone else in the race, to making incredibly bombastic statements that beg to be called out, but strike the wrong tone in pointing out her extremity, and a candidate runs the risk of falling into the Wallace trap.
Bachmann — who actually doesn’t play up her femininity as much as Palin and some of her pack of Mama Grizzlies from the 2010 elections — will probably face some questions a male candidate might not, but she also might be treated more carefully at times than they are. “There are pitfalls because gender in politics is still such a novelty,” explains Republican consultant Kellyanne Conway. A novelty! I think Kellyanne just implied that no politician — and this includes red-blooded Ronald Reagan, lusty JFK, even strong, noble Lincoln — displayed any masculine traits whatsoever while seeking higher office.