Sure, Michele Bachmann might look a wee bit scary on the Newsweek cover that launched a thousand blogs.
Liberal bias? Maybe. But I've seen that gaze -- like the one my dog has when there's a deer in the yard -- in her own campaign material. And maybe the "queen of rage" thing was a bit much as a cover line. But she does seem pretty upset.
To all those right-thinking Republicans lamenting imagery, I have to say: "Wait a minute. You started this."
When Sarah Palin strode on the convention nominating stage with her tight skirt and traditional values, the fellas on the right said "We're on to something here."
Palin begat Christine O'Donnell, the spectacularly unqualified Senate candidate from Delaware, who begat Nikki Haley in South Carolina, Bachmann and now Kristi Noem, a lushly-coiffed brunette that Huff Post readers named "Hottest freshmen in Congress." Interestingly, Noem's pictures often show that same deer-in-the-yard stare that has the Bachmannites taking up their spears.
Line up their pictures, and it's obvious they share more than their Tea-Party fan-base.
Of course, good looks never hurt any candidate. Reagan, Kennedy, Clinton and Obama lead a long list of candidates where looks and charisma cross over into votes. Mitt Romney rocks the silver-fox thing to perfection. Would Michael Bloomberg's presidential possibilities be better if he were six inches taller?
Appearance and popularity are a connection as old as junior high, but The University of Helsinki actually quantified it. The UK's Telegraph reports that 1,992, photos of political candidates were shown to 10,011 people. Affiliation wasn't mentioned -- just that they were politicians.
The interviewees were asked to rate the photos on a scale of attractiveness and perceived qualifications. For every small increase in the attractiveness rating, there was a much larger jump in perceived competence, trustworthiness and other qualities you might like to have in a public servant
But there is something going on with these Republican women that goes beyond good looks. It's deft packaging.
In the same way a hardened commie-fighter like Richard Nixon was the one to open China, these women are a fascinating vessel for conservative thought.
Take perfect teeth, glossy hair, sparkling eyes, flawless make up and clicking heels. Now combine that with values much more likely associated with a sensibly-shoed audience gathered on the state-house lawn in their Uncle Sam hats and Tea-Party T-shirts. Anti stem cells, anti abortion, anti gay marriage, anti big-city smart asses suddenly have star power. It's a juxtaposition that flummoxes opponents -- like Barbra Streisand supporting assault-rifles.
As Ann Coulter memorably put it: "I am emboldened by my looks to say things Republican men wouldn't." As an '08 campaign button said of Palin, a former third-place finisher in the Miss Alaska pageant: "Hottest VP from the Coolest State."
It's a brilliant formula, although not perfect: Palin became a Tina Fey punch line ("I can see Russia from my house!") and O'Donnell had to assure voters "I am not a witch." But with Bachmann, Hailey and Noem, the handlers appear to be improving on the hot conservative mama prototype. Although there may still be some kinks: Noem voted to raise the debt ceiling.
It's geometrically brilliant because it can be so readily replicated. A little experience and the right positions combined with a pleasing package: It's enough to vault a woman from the backwaters of regional politics to the national stage.
The question is what happens when they get there.
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