by Jerry Weissmann
In her determined quest for the presidency, Michele Bachmann has made several statements about historical data that were later proven erroneous and corrected by the Pulitzer Prize-winning website PolitiFact.com. But after getting off on the wrong foot by speaking to the wrong camera during her televised response to President Obama’s State of the Union in January, Ms. Bachmann learned her history lesson about the importance of presentation in politics.
The lesson began with the 1960 presidential debate in which the patrician John F. Kennedy won over an uptight Richard Nixon. That iconic event raised the bar for all future political campaigns, and they progressed through history in a rock-and-scissors game:
- The intense Richard Nixon won over a bland Hubert Humphrey and an equally-bland George McGovern
- The homespun Jimmy Carter won over a bumbling Gerald Ford
- The smooth Ronald Reagan won over a homespun Jimmy Carter and a bland Walter Mondale
- The dynamic Bill Clinton won over an aloof George H. W. Bush and a dry-as-dust Bob Dole
- The folksy George W. Bush won over a stiff Al Gore and an equally-stiff John Kerry
- The oratorical Barack Obama won over a petulant John McCain
Michele Bachmann is taking no such chances; she is conducting her campaign in maximum control mode. Trip Gabriel of the New York Times reported on the many measures Ms. Bachmann’s staff is taking to assure that she always appears as fresh as a daisy—including having had her duck offstage during the commercial breaks in her televised debate with male Republican candidates to touch up her makeup. Mr. Gabriel went on to note that she “is more controlling than most, carefully stage-managing her contacts with the news media and the public.”
In a related profile in the New Yorker, Ryan Lizza reported that Ms. Bachmann’s press secretary spoke to the media crew traveling with the Bachmann party and said, “I know everything is on the record these days…but please just don’t broadcast images of her in her casual clothes.” Of course that didn’t stop the critical article from accompanying the text with a caricature of Ms. Bachmann in cargo pants. The image was drawn by Barry Blitt, the same artist who did the controversial cover of the magazine showing Barack Obama dressed in a turban and Michelle Obama dressed as a terrorist, fist-bumping each other.
Be that as it may, Ms. Bachmann is wisely taking full cognizance —as every candidate must—of the fate that befell Richard Nixon in 1960: He refused professional makeup for his televised debate, and instead tried to mask his characteristically heavy beard with a slapdash coat of a caulk stick called “Lazy Shave;” but “Lazy Shave” was not porous and Mr. Nixon perspired under the hot studio lights, revealing his beard anyway, making him look more nervous and more intense than his cool, calm and poised opponent.
History lesson learned: Presentation counts.