Other than noting that Republicans bore me, and that it's sometimes very, very embarrassing to live in NH (as in, every election cycle), what hit my radar was...
Michele Bachmann is not Sarah Palin. Palin does whatever the hell she wants to do, and she's obviously enjoying herself doing it. Certainly, she spends a lot of time interpreting her conduct and comments within a self-consciously conservative framework. In doing so, she's constantly rereading the text and the script to suit the needs of her immediate performance. Palin is a performer. A natural, at that.
Unlike Palin, who expands that framework and forces its adherents to adapt to her moves or condemn themselves to a contest with a chimaera, Bachmann has (at least in tonight's debate) taken a more genuinely conservative approach to the issues. Bachmann has bound herself to them, replete with sworn pledges.
Palin is a genius, in her own way. Palin mouths what her followers want to hear, and she talks in their idiom with practiced expertise - but she is not bound by their self-imposed moral restrictions, especially within the arena of contest she's chosen as her public domain. Palin uses her gender as wedge - as a motherhood position - in a constant struggle with a male dominated conservative hierarchy. Palin's womanhood is not bound to men. She is the prime mover, in her family. She is the breadwinner, and yet she's managed to avoid the pigeonholing of her conduct according to perceptions of her gender. Regardless of her stump speeches, her family values utterances and her lip service to the conservative social canon, Palin as an actual person is a remarkable deviation from that canon. She's not Schlafly's heir. She's an anti-Schlafly, doing all the public things which the back-to-the-household old guard have spent four decades railing against.
Bachmann is not Palin.
Bachmann is a woman in chains.
It's not in her approach to the issues which reveals her condition, or which held my attention. Her treatment of the issues was so much boiler plate. Without any indication of tone, posture, enunciation or inflection, it would be difficult to tell Palin and Bachmann apart on the issues.
Palin does not try to compete with her male counterparts on their terms. She's comfortable as a woman, and she's comfortable as a powerful woman. She commends her followers for their adherence to traditional gender roles, as she continuously violates them.
Palin doesn't compensate.
Michele Bachmann, by comparison, appears to believe those roles deeply. Which puts her in a noticeable bind, as was plainly evident during this evening's debates.
So there she was, on the stage.
Dwarfed by the man-troll and the two tall, smug man-boys vying for whitest, blandest mommy's dearest:
Looking tiny next to even the perpetually diminutized Ron Paul.
And Bachmann spent the whole night compensating. As each Republican man offered his prescription for completely savaging the commons, for privatizing everything from education to space to environmental protection, Bachmann took it further. She tried to out-man them. She pledged, and promised and took solemn oaths like a two dimensional cookie cutter king in some bad YA fantasy or fan fiction.
When asked by a local college administrator what ought to be done to return manufacturing jobs to the States, the candidates each talked about shrinking government, getting out of the way of business, trade imbalances and deregulation. Bachmann went for the inordinate, declaring,
"Well, the United States federal government and the states have done numerous job training programs over the year with mixed results. This is what we need to do to turn job creation around and bring manufacturing back to the United States .
What we need to do is today the United States has the second highest corporate tax rate in the world. I’m a former federal tax lawyer. I’ve seen the devastation. We’ve got to bring that tax rate down substantially so that we’re among the lowest in the industrialized world.
Here’s the other thing. Every time the liberals get into office, they pass an omnibus bill of big spending projects. What we need to do is pass the mother of all repeal bills, but it’s the repeal bill that will get a job killing regulations. And I would begin with the EPA, because there is no other agency like the EPA. It should really be renamed the job-killing organization of America."
As write this, literally as I type, Anderson Vanderbilt and his guests are gushing over Michele Bachmann, as a "surprise winner" of the debate, musing over how she spoke in clear, precise sentences. She had her points in order. She "peppered" her arguments with interesting facts and data and argued in a "rational" fashion.
In short, on how she argued like a traditional male candidate.
Those expectations are Bachmann's chains. Because to be taken seriously beyond this debate and from here on forward, she cannot give the impression that she lacks the solidity of the traditionally masculine role, and its associated traits of aggression and assertion. By assuming them tonight, she has set her own minimum standard. She was taken seriously on those terms, and a failure to meet them again and again will consign her to public failure.
As this campaign continues, these are the qualities which will isolate her against the background of her male competitors and within the environment in which they all share a less than congenial competition. The further she progresses as a serious competitor, the more likely she will fall into the trap which caught Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi, assuming the mediated role of the harridan, the scold and the woman who forgot her place. As the woman-thing trying to be serious while the menfolk talk shop, and politics and the rough salvation of a womanly nation.
Who is so much cagier than that.
Palin slipped her chains.
And tonight, watching Bachmann try to out assert*, out gun and out man the men, we got to watch her assume the weight of them voluntarily.
I felt bad for Michele Bachmann, tonight. Not because she was a victim. She wasn't. She held her own. I felt bad for her because, as she wrapped those chains around her own self, slipped the key into the lock and turned it closed, I knew that the press and her competitors would never let her take them off again...
* - I'm not suggesting that there are innate gender traits. I'm suggesting that Bachmann was attempting to compete with utterly traditional men by assuming traditionally masculine traits.