Poor, poor Tim Pawlenty. The earnest Minnesota governor brought his best zingers and one-liners to the Minneapolis Convention Center on Wednesday, but he got his biggest applause at the GOP fundraiser only when he introduced Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann. The two brightest stars of the conservative movement were headliners for the event to raise cash for Bachmann's re-election campaign. On the charisma scale, he was chalk to their napalm.
With Martina McBride's "This One's for the Girls" blaring in the background, Bachmann and Palin took the stage in a blur of waving hands, teased hair, floral prints and piled-on pearls. Far away from Michael Steele's sex-club scandal and John Boehner's "Hell No!" legislative strategy, Palin and Bachmann gave their mostly female audience of more than 11,000 a riled up hour of newfangled Republican girl power.
Between the two, Palin and Bachmann taunted terrorists, ridiculed Democrats, and praised liberty and freedom-loving Americans. "Patriots loooove your country," Palin cooed to the crowd. "You are so proud to be Americans."
On health care reform, Bachmann promised to push for repeal. "You better believe it, baby! Repeal is what this girl is going to be all about after November." On federal spending, she promised to shrink it. "We're going to start by starving the beast!" On the details of all this, she sort of fudged it (the government owns or controls 51 percent of the American economy?), but that's not the point right now.
The point is that artfully folded into the women's right-of-center red meat rhetoric was an unusually heavy dose of what anyone would call old-fashioned feminism if it wasn't coming from two hot Republican women in high heels. (Palin put Naughty Monkey-brand shoes on the map when she wore their red "Double Dare" peep-toe pumps to a John McCain rally.)
"In politics, if you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman," Palin joked to the delight of the crowd, quoting Margaret Thatcher. "My own mantra is that behind every good, productive man stands a very surprised woman."
Although Palin told her fans she was "just joshin' about that gender thing," the visual image of Palin and Bachmann commanding the stage as headliners of the event, rather than bit players, was striking. That they were flanked by women as they spoke as superstars of a political movement would have been the dream of any 1960s feminist.
But along with their super-sized political influence, Palin and Bachmann are both prolific mothers (they have five children each) and pro-life activists. Bachmann has been a foster parent to 23 children with her husband and Palin was outspoken in her choice not to end her pregnancy upon learning that her fifth child would have Down syndrome.
Those are qualities that make the women positively anti-feminist for old-school activists, but it's also what conservative women say they've been missing for years in their search for their own Hillary Clinton. "No matter how you look at it, it is just good to have strong, positive female role models in political life," said Marjorie Dannenfelser, chair of the conservative Susan B. Anthony List. "For only one model to have been represented, basically cutting out half of the female population in terms of mentorship, can never be a good thing."
It's hard to think that Wednesday's event was not what Betty Friedan envisioned for women in "The Feminine Mystique," when she said that women should be allowed to want more than a life of folding laundry and driving carpool. "We can no longer ignore that voice within women that says: 'I want something more than my husband and my children and my home.'" she wrote.
Because Friedan died in 2006, the year before Palin and Bachmann took their seats in the governor's office and in Congress, respectively, we'll never know if they would have been the embodiment of her greatest hopes for women or the fruition of her greatest fears for them. Either way, they're opening new doors, even if they're not the thresholds traditional feminists want to cross.
As Palin finished her stump speech for Bachmann, she made a prediction about the 2010 election cycle. "There are a lot of conservative women like Michele who are standing up and speaking out for common sense conservative solutions and they're ready to take their country back," she said. "2010 is shaping up to be the year that conservative women get together to take back this country and Michele is leading the stampede."
In an effort to encourage the same level of civil dialogue among Politics Daily’s readers that we expect of our writers – a “civilogue,” to use the term coined by PD’s Jeffrey Weiss – we are requiring commenters to use their AOL or AIM screen names to submit a comment, and we are reading all comments before publishing them. Personal attacks (on writers, other readers, Nancy Pelosi, George W. Bush, or anyone at all) and comments that are not productive additions to the conversation will not be published, period, to make room for a discussion among those with ideas to kick around. Please read our Help and Feedback section for more info.