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Posted at 06:40 PM ET, 06/14/2011

Michele Bachmann, the GOP debate and the SNL Palin factor


Oddly devoid of self-parodies. (EMMANUEL DUNAND - AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Make me laugh.

It’s one of the challenges of courtship. When someone laughs at your jokes, it’s a sign of interest. Laugh with you, and the battle’s half over. Laugh at you — and, well, ask Sarah Palin how that turned out.

So forget Monday’s GOP debate. I’m waiting for the “SNL” version.

Most of the self-parodies have departed from the race or failed to enter it in the first place. Trump? Kaput. Palin? Off on some sort of weird road trip.

That just leaves everyone else — a surprisingly sane and normal bunch. What will the parodies tell? Rick Santorum and Tim Pawlenty can be the Mary-Kate and Ashley “Look At Us, There Are Subtle But Meaningful Distinctions Going On Although We Appear To Be Identical To The Untrained Eye” Olsen duo. Herman Cain, Ron Paul? They’re already fixed points, with “pizza” and “gold standard” hovering over their heads like tri-radiant nimbuses. Newt? He’ll be dressed as the Hindenberg. Romney is coming down with a serious case of the Gore syndrome, sensing that he has landed in the quicksand of a Dull Old Block image and only making it worse by desperately flailing around. He spent his time in New Hampshire Tuesday trying to joke with voters, riffing about serving eggs Benedict (garnished with hollandaise sauce) in hubcaps — “there’s no place like chrome for the hollandaise,” he quipped, provoking “polite” laughter from his auditors and generally failing to ignite the fire in our loins, or bellies, or wherever the relevant fire is supposed to be located.

But what about Bachmann, whose star-making turn as The Lady With 23, Count ‘Em, 23 Foster Kids and Who’s Gonna Make Barack Obama A One-Term President, has left everyone wondering how it will play on “SNL”?

Caricature tells more than portraiture about the features of a face. Look at Tina Fey’s star-making turn as Sarah Palin on “SNL.” Ideal meat for parody is someone who is funny without knowing or noticing why. That was Palin in a nutshell. Her whole selling point was not what she said but how she said it. She seldom said anything at all, so this was a good side to emphasize. You could fit most of her theses into the navel of a gnat and still have room for six caraway seeds and the social value of the exercise of looking through her e-mails. Helicopters! Wolves! Russia! She was as funny as you could be without being an actual joke. It just took Fey’s knowing delivery to push her over the edge.

Bachmann comes with the knowing delivery built in.

Bachmann was “at ease and forceful without looking at all crazy or out of control,” said E. J. Dionne. “Surprisingly un-crazy”! It’s her new trademark. Unlike Palin, whose random, roving, neologism-rich delivery was everything, Bachmann manages to sound somewhat sane and rational. Her statements may be controversial — Remember that time she suggested ways that our school systems could indoctrinate schoolchildren into homosexuality by using Elton John? Or noted that there might be correlation between swine flu and Democratic presidents? — but how she says them? Nothing there to mock. No caribou. No guns. No pageants.

The comparison to Palin is inevitable here. It is not sexist — two of these things are, frankly, not like the others. Even supporters of Bachmann have been pushing the likeness, attracting the label the “smart version of Palin” and noting, “Do we need Palin when we have Bachmann?”Pretty soon there will be a slew of ad campaigns with slogans like, “Bachmann — for when you wake up late at night craving Sarah Palin, but want something slightly more filling.” “Do you remember how much fun it was to have Sarah in the race? This is like that, but different.” She’s the Yoplait version of America’s former favorite dessert. “Craving cheesecake?” Bachmann asks. “I am like cheesecake, but later you’ll feel better about yourself.”

And it’s the second clause that matters. This is Bachmann all over. Bachmann has been careful to portray herself as someone who cares about ideas and whose credentials as a lawmaker matter. I’m not personally crazy, she insists. I just say things that appeal to crazy people. I have delivered, in a sane, slow, collected manner, remarks that would not sound out of place coming from one of those homeless men you see outside supermarkets. But only on occasion! The medium is the message, and the medium doesn’t ramble and complain about gotcha questions.

It’s not how she says it. It’s what she says.

So it won’t be nearly so much fun to watch on Saturday nights.

By  |  06:40 PM ET, 06/14/2011

Tags:  Bachmann, GOP 2012, SNL

 
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