Politicians are a vain lot, and even if they weren't, the necessities of the television age enforce a certain need to maintain a baseline level of attractiveness. In the 2012 GOP primary campaign, one of the frontrunners is Mitt Romney, a fantastically wealthy man who can probably afford to pay for a cloud of nanobots to clean him down to the pores in order to keep him looking like Bob Dobbs. So, when I hear that Michele Bachmann has had to step up her spending to keep herself looking camera-ready, is this something that's supposed to surprise or outrage me? Andy Kroll of Mother Jones, in a piece that's really beneath him, reports:
Considering Rep. Michele Bachmann's crusade against government spending and her demand that America live within its means, you wouldn't figure her for a conspicuous spender. But after launching her bid for the White House, Bachmann has broken with her usual frugality and shelled out some serious cash on a stylist in what could be seen as her own John-Edwards'-$400-haircut moment.
It's here that I sort of start looking for the answer to the obvious question, "So what?" Let's see: Bachmann has engaged a stylist (seems pretty de rigeur for a presidential candidate), that stylist works for Fox News (that's supposed to be ominous?), she's spending more on "hair and makeup" than she has in the past (she's running for president now, in case you haven't heard), and then there's another paragraph about how she's spending more on hair and makeup than she has in the past (still running for president!). Newt Gingrich's Tiffany account woes are brought up as a point of comparison, but what separates this from Gingrich's Tiffany accounts is very simple: Gingrich's massive expenditures mark him as an unserious candidate for president. Bachmann's, on the other hand, are evidence of her seriousness.
Finally, the piece concludes like this: "But will Bachmann's $4,700 bill hurt her in the eyes of the fiscal conservatives who've taken to heart her message on spare spending?"
Oh! Well, the answer to that question is, "No." Those that are support her version of "fiscal conservatism" do so because she promises to do things like "repeal Obamacare" and "abolish the EPA," and their bond to her will only be strengthened by a news story that picks on her for spending money on makeup. (Kroll's story will, however, resonate very powerfully with people who had no intention of ever casting a vote for Bachmann.)
Elspeth Reeve runs down the reality of keeping up with high-definition television:
Have you ever checked the price tags at Sephora? Makeup For Ever HD Invisible Cover Foundation: $40. HD Microperfecting Primer: $32. HD Microfinish Powder: $30. And how do you think you get all that stuff on your face? HD Kabuki Brush: $39. That's just the skin. Don't forget cheeks, eyes, lips, hair and hair. And then there's the person to put it on. Bachmann has beautiful hair. Do you know how hard it is to get perfect hair in July?
Bachmann could, I suppose, eschew these trappings and go on teevee looking haggard and terrible. But what would that prove? Would it make her more "in touch" with an "America living within its means?" No, because her Sephora expenditures are not a reflection of whether or not she is "in touch" with ordinary Americans -- her actions and policy priorities and ideological preferences are. Surely there's enough there to report on, right?
But let's be clear: I totally agree that this is Bachmann's "John Edwards' $400 haircut moment." Why? Because strictly defined, the "John Edwards' $400 haircut moment" was a moment that demonstrated more about the shallowness of journalists than it did about John Edwards. Did any of the reporting on Edwards' haircut redound to the benefit of a single ordinary American? No, it did not. Did it truly demonstrate that Edwards was out of touch with the American people? No, it did not. Did Edwards' tonsorial habits rank high among his personal failings? As we learned, the answer there is also "no."
This story about Bachmann's makeup expenditures are, like the Edwards' haircut stories of yesteryear, unforced errors of journalism. To reiterate a previous suggestion, when you write something about Bachmann, check it against the Catbus Three Point Plan On How To Deal With Michele Bachmann Without Being A Sexist Asshole. If it passes, publish. If it fails on any count, then spike it. Everyone wins!