Bachmann on 'Face the Nation': 2 Signs She Is Serious

By James Fallows

The two takeaways from this morning's show (via notes written 12+ hours ago -- have been in transit in the interim):

1) She looks so much better than she used to. Compare her appearance from a famous Hardball spot during the 2008 campaign with her presentation today. (The Hardball episode was famous because it was when she called Obama "very anti-American." [More precisely, that his "views" were anti-American.]) First, the "before," nearly three years ago:

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Now, today's "after," in a quick screen grab -- the real show wasn't quite this soft-focus:

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Is this a retrograde sexist judgment? Unt-uh. Overall presentation matters in politics, especially at the TV-based national level. It mattered that JFK looked better than Nixon in 1960, Reagan than Carter in 1980, Obama than McCain in 2008. It mattered that Dukakis looked the way he did in a tank in 1988. The change in Bachmann's presentation -- hair, makeup, styling in general -- tells me that she has thought about "raising her game," and in a much more sophisticated way than what we see in the evolution of Sarah Palin's appearance through that same period.

2) She showed that she is an absolute genius at the established political technique of "giving the answer you want to give, no matter what the question was." Schieffer reeled off a list of whopper-scale false claims she had madeĀ  -- for instance, that Obama had approved "only one" offshore drilling permit, when in fact he'd approved hundreds. Her response, every time, was some variant on "the real question is why President Obama has misled us." Or, on policy: what specifically would she do to create jobs? "The real question is why President Obama has failed to create jobs." See for yourself from CBS's site.

I am not endorsing this as the ideal way to lead a public discourse, and you can't get away with it forever. (Schieffer closed the show with a manful for-the-record note that he had tried time and again to get answers to his questions about her falsehoods, and hadn't.) If you have only this one trick in your array of responses, eventually this will be what the press constantly harps on. But it is a part of a big-time politician's arsenal, and she showed that she knows how to use it.

When I say these are signs that she is serious, I don't mean that by my lights she suddenly has practical, plausible answers to the nation's problems. It means that her run could be more disciplined and professional than some other ill-starred long-shot campaigns we've seen recently.
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Also this morning, Chris Wallace of Fox did a followup on his previous week's showdown with Jon Stewart. In its own way -- ie, unintentionally -- I thought Wallace's comeback actually reinforced Stewart's point. More on that when released from transit hell.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/06/bachmann-on-face-the-nation-2-signs-she-is-serious/241040/