Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann is an unusual politician, no question . The Republican has warned of “gangster government.” She has suggested that members of Congress be investigated to see who is “pro-America” and who is “anti-America.” She has said the young people who supported Barack Obama are now “being fitted with shackles and chains” because of the president’s tax policies. She has warned of America’s children being sent to “politically correct” “re-education camps” and implied that the government could use census information to recreate World War II-era internment camps.
Despite all that, there was something jarring about the undignified question MSNBC’s Chris Matthews posed to Bachmann on election eve. “Are you hypnotized?” he asked. “Because no matter what I ask you, you give the same answer. .. .Has someone put you under a trance tonight?”
It is the rare politician who does not at least attempt to stick to her talking points. Such discipline is as much a badge of honor for pols as it is a source of frustration for interviewers and folks watching from home. It’s annoying but hardly surprising that Bachmann, who routinely says wacky things (and routinely denies them afterward), would attempt to stick to the script – especially on a night of so much celebration within her party.
What distinguishes Bachmann from other on-message candidates is a slightly peeled look popularized by shows like The Real Housewives of Orange County , a look characterized by extreme grooming and a perma-smile and perhaps a little something extra from the dermatologist’s office. It is a look that doesn’t know partisan affiliation. (Indeed, many people have made fun of Nancy Pelosi for it.) With her wide eyes and preternaturally smooth skin, Bachmann looks a little otherworldly. And Matthews seemed to be responding as much to Bachmann’s appearance as to her disciplined messaging. This made his question feel like a cheap shot.
It was also, for me, the low point during an evening of watching MSNBC, whose smart-alecky and one-sided coverage, helmed by Keith Olbermann – “Get your popcorn,” he said, introducing Christine O’Donnell’s concession speech – seemed beneath the gravitas of an election night.
Photograph of Michele Bachmann by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.