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August 12, 2011

GOP Debate: Titanium Is A Girl’s Best Friend

The visuals from Thursday’s  Iowa debate presented a classic case of “which one of these is not like the other one.” With her slight frame, shimmering silver suit, and bare legs, Michele Bachmann embodies the notion that she’s not your (classically conservative) father’s presidential candidate. If the Tea Party constituency gets its way, she just might be the face of the Republican party’s future. But Bachmann’s sustained appeal befuddles many on the left who see her both as incompetent and prone to extremes in her rhetoric and policy stances.

I believe that that this photo hints at the keys to Bachmann’s recent successes.

First, let’s talk fashion—and, no, I’m not falling into the trap of critiquing women politicians’ fashion choices more than men’s. Like Ronald Reagan, Bachmann is keenly aware of the importance of visual appeal and fashion choices are an inevitable prop in any political performance. (In fact, Ryan Lizza’s recent profile in The New Yorker suggests that, for Bachmann, fashion is particularly crucial. He recounts the request made by Bachmann’s team to reporters following her on the campaign trail that they follow “one important rule” and “please just don’t broadcast images of her in her casual clothes.”)

If clothes make the woman (or man), what does Bachmann’s debate outfit reveal about her campaign strategy?

The silver suit distinguished Bachmann not only from the current GOP pack (who donned the predictable [yawn] navy suits punctuated by bright blue ties) but also from former female presidential figures. Hillary Clinton’s dark pantsuits were designed to downplay difference and emphasize her toughness and experience. Elizabeth Dole preferred bright colors and feminine skirts that underscored her status as a “steel magnolia.” Too Midwestern to pull off the same thing, Bachmann’s choice resulted in pictures that were visually dramatic. Instead of being dwarfed by her much taller counterparts, she looked bold and decisive—exuding a steely presidential persona that was still appropriately feminine.

Bachmann’s strategic fashion choice also reveals a more substantive campaign strategy that is paying off—call it titanium temperance. Bachmann has proven capable of steeling herself against attacks launched by her critics, the media, and even fellow Republicans.  Consider her response to Byron York’s now infamous question, “as president, would you be submissive to your husband?” The conservative crowd booed loudly, but Bachmann (without missing a beat) playfully replied, “thank you for your question, Byron.” She went on to give a measured answer about the mutual respect that she and her husband have built in their 33-year marriage. That moment typified Bachmann’s ability (in contrast to Sarah Palin) to—as grudgingly noted by the Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus—respond to sexist attacks with “disarming humor.” Marcus rightly points out that Bachmann’s smoothness makes her the “un-Palin.”

Being “the good wife” is not normally a recipe for presidential success, but it has its advantages in the current political climate. For the Tea Party constituency, Bachmann is as exciting a figure as Obama was for many liberals in 2008—precisely because she embodies difference.

Bachmann enacts the paradox of a “surrendered wife” as commander-in-chief. By supporting her, conservatives get to be “family (values) friendly” feminists. They can “make history” without disrupting tradition. They can dominate government while deriding its value. Perhaps that’s why Bachmann continues to power on in the polls, despite what a flummoxed Pawlenty called her “record of misstating and making false statements.” As of Friday afternoon, ABC News was reporting that Bachmann was likely to do well in Saturday’s Iowa straw poll.

Regardless of the immediate results in Iowa, Bachmann will likely continue to display her titanium temperance and cheerfully kiss off her critics.

– Karrin Anderson

(photo: Charlie Neibergall / AP.  caption: Republican presidential candidates pose for a photo before the start of the Iowa GOP/Fox News Debate at the CY Stephens Auditorium in Ames, Iowa, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011. Pictured from left to right: former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum; businessman Herman Cain; Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney; Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.; former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty; former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.)

    • Wassim

      Ron Paul, 2012. This is our last chance to get it right!

      • Spiny Norman

        I agree. Ron Paul is such a wonderful combination of down-to-earth sensibility and untethered insanity. 

    • tinwoman

      She has worn this silver outfit before.  I do not like it, it looks too bright and not very sophisticated.  In Pakistan, when a poor boy makes it in the city, the first suit he has tailored is usually something in this bright metallic silver.  In fact, you can tell the differenc between a real educated urbanite and a country mouse wannabe by this color.  It’s called “looking pindoo” (like a villager).

      Michele is looking very pindoo.

      Better choices: a rich but dark blue, green, or even red.  She’s small, so she can’t go with black (which she often wears to her detriment) or a version of the male uniform.  Her fashion sense should be guided by Nancy Pelosi, who always looks perfect in her role (The Hillary pant suits are fine–for Hillary).

      But that shiny silver dress is just awful, just incredibly off putting.  Any person born into society could tell you this.

      • psychohistorian

        So from silver spoon in mouth to wearing silver was the connection I made.

      • jonst

        You are right Tinwoman, it looks like crap. In NYC we might call it “Chintzy”. 

    • bks

       Bachmann looks like the filling of a cheap sandwich.  In pic #1 Romney and Pawlenty look like clones and their symmetry is what caught my eye.   It’s clear that Romney is the tallest, best-looking person on stage, and that’s why he’s leading.


    • Laurelsmthome

      Both these pictures are fun to take some time with. Herman Cain is clearly having the most fun – body language seems to say “damn, I’m good”. John Huntsman seems to be a step behind everyone else. Newt’s wave has everything but the traditional twist in the wrist as he waves to the commoners. Michele Bacman’s poor choice of shoes draw your eyes down to her feet and chop her off at the ankle. Perhaps m’ lady has feet of clay.

    • Pingback: Bachmann touts her social conservative views – Sacramento Bee | Conservatives for America

    • Momly

      Is she BLOWING KISSES? 

      Good God, lose the shoes. That doesn’t work with the suit; it either needs to be snugger and slinkier or she needs to wear a plain pump – or a sling back if she has to do the sexy.

      The contrast between the suit and the shoes suggests to me she can’t make up her mind. 

    • Anonymous

      Her shoes, her shoes.  I want them.  What presidential candidate has ever worn shoes like that?

    • Pastafarian

      What’s with the gladiator high heeled sandals?

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