To hear the chatter, this is big, like The Beatles partying with The Rolling Stones, or Prince sharing a stage with Michael Jackson, or Elvis doing a surfer movie with Frank Sinatra. The two alpha women of conservative politics, Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin, will share the same stage in Minnesota Wednesday for a rally, with a private fundraiser to follow. Physicists at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland are setting odds on whether Chris Matthews will implode into a black hole.
The magic of this duo is that it crosses the ideological boundaries that govern our political discussion, exciting both the left and right in equal measure, and therefore perking the attention of the political center, which generally prefers to click links for Tiger Woods paramours and Sandra Bullock divorce rumors.
For the right, Bachmann and Palin represent two of the most charismatic and unapologetic leaders in the party, not to mention the two new role models of the strong conservative woman. There is, in fact, a clear strain of Republican feminism that is growing in this country, a reaction, I think, to the historic 2008 campaign of Hillary Clinton, whose politics and pant-suits left many conservative voters torn between their own values and their desire to see a woman in the Oval Office. If you doubt this, or take issue with my use of the word “feminism,” take a moment to consider that the Republican Party, for the first time in its history, is captive to the charisma of women leaders. The old men of the party, like Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who will also be at the event, and Mitt Romney, who is on a low-key book tour, would probably trade a kidney for this sort of enthusiasm.
For the left, Bachmann and Palin represent two of the best possible exemplars of troubling and unelectable conservatism. The Democratic National Committee has a soft spot for both women, just as White House spokesman Robert Gibbs likes chatting about Rush Limbaugh and Dick Cheney. Though these women excite the base, they play much less well among the broader population. The DNC has gone so far as to highlight the event with some heavily-edited, less-than-flattering Bachmann and Palin greatest hits to commemorate the event today.
It is interesting to note that the Congressional recess has so far been dominated by two Republican story lines: Michael Steele and the Republican National Committee’s penchant for self-flagellation, er, bondage, and Sarah Palin going places to do stuff. (See: McCain, John; Nevada, Searchlight.) This is a far cry from where Republicans would like the conversation to be, which is focused squarely on the continued economic anxiety in the nation, the blooming national debt, the ongoing uncertainty about health care, and the widespread fury that the American people feel towards their elected leadership in Washington. But then, its hard for the Mitch McConnells and John Boehners of the world to control the conversation when women like Bachmann and Palin are due to take the stage.