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5 Reasons Michele Bachmann Is the New Sarah Palin

Is Bachmann the new Palin? Or is sexism the reason similarities between 2008’s GOP VP candidate and 2012's contender keep popping up?

Move over, Sarah Palin: there’s a new extreme conservative, ideology-spouting, history-mangling bogeywoman in town. Yes, that Michele Bachmann character is stealing your thunder--and possibly your votes. She’s got the GOP base riled up in Iowa, she has the “liberal elite” frightened as hell, and she’s got the “lamestream media” ensnared with fascination, revulsion and excitement. And that very same media has been tripping over itself suggesting all sorts of head-to-head matchups between you two conservative ladies; a classy Fox News host joked about a  Jell-o-wrestling event that would pit you against each other, for instance. 

These are the kinds of ideas that pundits would never, ever imagine suggesting for a pair of male candidates with a few similarities, would they? Of course not. Just as Bachmann is getting the same kind of political support Palin got, so is she getting the same kind of misogynistic treatment from the media.

Is Michele Bachmann really the new Sarah Palin? Or does sexism explain why comparisons between 2008’s GOP VP candidate/reality TV show star and 2012's contender keep popping up in our minds and in our culture?

As tempting as it is to hold them up against each other, then, should we be avoiding a gendered focus by widening our lens to the entire field of Republican candidates and would-be candidates? Is it wrong to look at these two women as inevitable rivals when there are so many GOP potentials who share the characteristics that invite comparison: rigid social conservatism and distrust of government, a disregard of logic, an avid courting of the Tea Party, and a glassy-eyed refusal to contend with facts? 

The answer is complex. The two are indeed both members of a select group of GOP candidates counting on the far-right votes to win--but sexism is also at play in many of the pairings. Someone like Rick Perry , for instance, really ought to be in the mix when pundits discuss the kind of threat these charismatic Tea Party candidates pose. His flirtation with throwing his hat in the ring has certainly been of the same level as Palin’s.

Then again, sometimes the comparisons come from the candidates themselves. In June, Ben Smith of Politico wrote an article about  Bachmann’s camp strategically gunning for a confrontation:

 The coming confrontation is being driven by a belief in Bachmann’s camp that the same grassroots, conservative primary voters and caucus-goers may have to choose between the two women—and that they will choose Bachmann if she presents herself as a more seasoned, reliable, and serious conservative than her high-profile rival. The apparent effort to draw distinctions broke into the open Tuesday when her new top strategist, Ed Rollins, dismissed Palin as “not serious” in a radio interview. 

So Bachmann's camp is trying to market her (and the media is generally buying her) as Palin with gravitas--which certainly eliminates the biggest problem with perceptions of Palin, that she’s a pop culture figure masquerading as politician.

Still, the perception that there's only room for one is as problematic as it is politically inevitable. Culturally, it’s certainly true that Bachmann has begun to occupy the very same space as Palin did (laced with misogyny as that space may be)--down to the manner and cadence of her online impersonators. Like Palin before her, Bachmann has hasbecome a visible symbol for all that we hate and ridicule about the right wing. And it’s probably largely due to the fact that in a sexist climate her gender makes her an object of fascination and a target that Rick Perry or Rick Santorum--whose beliefs are every bit as zealous as Bachmann's--simply are not.