Her detailed account of that moment — her disappointment that his car didn’t seem quite as big inside as she had expected, and her giddy disbelief that she was in the position of handing off her custard cup to Karl Rove — makes this the rare campaign bio in which the candidate comes off as more human than carefully humanized. It’s a “girlier” book than most female candidates would dare, offering glimpses of her worrying about her looks, shyly practicing cheers with the blinds drawn and dateless on prom night, maybe because she didn’t “fool around.’’
But her willingness to show some vulnerability could also make readers of any political stripe like her more. Stuck at 4 percent in opinion polls, down from 16 percent in July, and pegged as “tutti-frutti” by that kidder Herman Cain, it’s perhaps a shame for Bachmann that the autobiography didn’t come out sooner.
On the campaign trail in her birth state of Iowa, the Minnesota congresswoman tells many of the same stories that are in the book, yet comes off as far more severe. She defines herself first and most frequently as the mother of five biological and 23 foster children: “I want you to know you are looking at the old woman in the shoe,’’ she says in the gym of a Lutheran church in Fairfield, a comment that elicits a laugh in part because her French manicure and trim figure are so at odds with the zaftig, kerchiefed granny the nursery rhyme calls to mind.
But Bachmann plays the mom card differently than others have. In an interview between Iowa campaign events, she says that what she offers voters above all, in drawing on her experience as a parent, is the ability “to know when to say no, and that’s tremendously applicable’’ in a country that she says must be forced to stop “overindulging.’’
Instead of the warm-and-worried “mom in tennis shoes” that Patty Murray (D-Wash.) ran as for the Senate, or the ferocious, angry “mama grizzly” that her friend Sarah Palin is, Bachmann is running as the disciplinarian mom, who says no all the time — less, “Have a cookie and tell me what’s bothering you” than “You are so not leaving the house like that.”
Child-rearing experts tell us that what kids really crave are boundaries, the refusal to cave. And despite all evidence to the contrary, the conservative congresswoman is running on the proposition that good boundaries (and maybe a timeout) are what voters want, too.