"Are you a flake?"
With that question on "Fox News Sunday" to Rep. Michele Bachmann, Chris Wallace may have given a rallying cry to the new feminist revolution in American politics. Except the f-word will likely be nowhere in evidence.
Wallace apologized, and in a sense the whole kerfuffle is over -- but only for him. He was only hitching onto the mainstream media's presentation of Bachmann, as a dim bulb, leaving the three-term congresswoman and former tax attorney to have to explain to him "I'm a serious person."
That she is such is why Wallace and Bachmann were even having the conversation in the first place. She's a contender for the Republican nomination for the president, one who turned out an impressive performance during the first presidential debate.
The Wallace question encapsulates the attitude that drives Bachmann defenders mad. There's something more than a wee bit patronizing about the treatment of Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin.
"What did Bachmann do to set the lefty blogs afire today?" my colleague Jim Geraghty recently asked. "Split an infinitive? Dangle a participle? Order red wine with fish? Wear white after Labor Day?" As Democrat Kirsten Powers recently noted: "If Joe Biden's gaffes had received half the attention of Bachmann's, nobody would take him seriously, either."
It's so way beyond Joe. Former Clinton aide George Stephanopoulos, now an anchor for "Good Morning America," asked Bachmann in an attempt to "gotcha" her: "You said that the Founding Fathers worked tirelessly to end slavery."
She explained: "Well if you look at one of our Founding Fathers, John Quincy Adams, that's absolutely true. He was a very young boy when he was with his father serving essentially as his father's secretary. He tirelessly worked throughout his life to make sure that we did in fact one day eradicate slavery ... "
Stephanopoulos would not let it go. "He wasn't one of the Founding Fathers -- he was a president, he was a secretary of state, he was a member of Congress; you're right he did work to end slavery decades later. But so you are standing by this comment that the Founding Fathers worked tirelessly to end slavery?"
Bachmann may have misfired on the wording, but this minute hair-splitting was getting ridiculous. She wound down the history lesson with grace: "Well, John Quincy Adams most certainly was a part of the Revolutionary-War era. He was a young boy, but he was actively involved."
Seriously? The United States of America is in danger of default and this is what "Good Morning America" is going rounds with a presidential candidate on? She may not win Trivial Pursuit, but that's not the competition she's in.
Is it sexism? It's an interesting question. It surely is a curious thing. After decades of insisting that women have "equal rights," even when that really just means special rights to ensure the numbers of women in executive positions and other job -- despite the priorities and choices women make -- women are on the rise in electoral politics, but they're not exactly the type that longtime female-president proponents had in mind.
In their 2000 book "Madam President: Shattering the Last Glass Ceiling," Eleanor Clift and her husband, the late Tom Brazaitis, wrote: "Political analysts believe the first woman president will be a 'Sister Mister,' having the body of a woman with the character traits of a man. More than likely she will come from the moderate-to-conservative segment of the ideological spectrum."
"Women," they continued, "frequently go too far in proving their toughness. Seeking credibility, they cater to men's issues -- military defense and the economy -- sometimes at the expense of losing touch with their natural constituency of women."
Women don't all want that. In the run-up to November's midterm elections, one poll found 57 percent of women saying "the private sector has better ideas than the federal government about how to improve the economy and create jobs." And the economy and jobs are what motivated so many right-leaning women to become engaged in what has become known as the tea-party movement.
We don't need whining, as Sarah Palin recently noted, we need solutions: reform; spending discipline; seriousness. The unemployed are probably more interested in those things then academic discussions about feminism or trivia games.
Phyllis Schlafly was a pro-life, conservative woman in politics before such a thing started to become commonplace. She declares her love for Sarah Palin, but has little patience for her and any attempts to give new life and meaning to the word "feminist." It's a word she wants to make "a pejorative."
Like long morning-show conversations about what era John Quincy Adams rightly belongs to, Michele Bachmann seems to have little interest in using or otherwise talking about the f-word. When Kirsten Powers pressed her in a recent interview, Bachmann called herself an "empowered American" -- as "pro-man" as she is "pro-woman." She said: "I'm a woman comfortable in her own skin. I grew up with three brothers. My parents didn't see us (as) limited (by gender). I would mow the lawn and take out the trash; I was making my own fishing lures. I went along with everything the boys did."
And so she does so now, with a feminine touch. No "feminist" and no "Mister Sister." Just another candidate, bringing her gifts, natural and otherwise, to the stage. That's not flaky, that's just where we ought to be.