Hold the presses—Rep. Michele Bachmann, gets—gasp—headaches.
Migraines, in fact—“incapacitating” ones brought on by bad moods, according to a story relying on anonymous ex-Bachmann aides published by conservative online publication the Daily Caller. The implication seems to be that the condition could disqualify her from the post of commander-in-chief (never mind the long line of commanders that came before her that suffered from much more severe medical conditions).
It’s the latest brouhaha to embroil Bachmann’s fledgling presidential campaign. A little over a month into its official launch and the Minnesota congresswoman has been called a “balloonhead,” “a Barbie with fangs,” and pointedly asked whether she’s “a flake.”
The former federal tax attorney’s hair and wardrobe have been picked over. Her relationship with her husband and his Christian counseling business has emerged as a major story line. And despite the fact that presidential primaries have long hosted numerous white, balding men making a play for the same votes, there’s been considerable chatter about whether there’s enough oxygen in the race for both Bachmann and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and the imminent "catfight" that would inevitably break out, should both women run.
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The suggestion that she’s not tough enough to handle the duties of the presidency and a common ailment doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon either—Bachmann’s campaign has already been forced to address it on the trail.
“Like nearly 30 million other Americans, I experience migraines that are easily controllable with medication,” Bachmann read from a statement after a campaign rally in Aiken, S.C., on Tuesday. “While I appreciate the concern for myself and for my health, the greater concern should be the debate that is occurring today in Washington, D.C., over whether or not we will increase our debt, spending, and taxes.”
(RELATED: Famous Americans with Migraines)
Aggressive, even obsessive, media scrutiny is perhaps only to be expected for a figure that is as much a lightning rod within the GOP camp—a rabble-rouser who has a pesky tendency to play it loose with the facts as well as the first woman within striking distance of winning a Republican primary. And where Bachmann is concerned, it is indeed difficult to distinguish between a press that is doing its job in pointing out gaffes, relevant personal histories, and lapses and one that is treating her unfairly and distracting from the real issues.
Some have pointed out that if Bachmann does truly suffer from debilitating headaches that keep her from working, that is, of course, of concern to American voters. But the tone of coverage and the lines of attacks have other observers wondering if its being driven, at least in part, by Bachmann's X chromosomes.
Most of those who spoke with National Journal said it’s too soon to tell, but the early signs don’t seem promising. Even after the hand-wringing and apologizing that went on after the coverage of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin in the 2008 race, there are lessons left to be learned.
“I certainly think that the comments have been reminiscent of some of what we heard back in 2008,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. “You have to wonder whether the questions are framed the same way and would they have been asked of male candidates? I don’t think you hear it in quite that same way.”
Pertaining to the migraines specifically, Walsh said: "This one feels out of bounds and blown up. It seems like another version of 'Can women do this job if their hormones are raging once a month?' "
Even those unwilling to allege sexism note that differences in coverage for male and female candidates does exist, for better or for worse.
“I'm not sure the story would have gotten the same traction had it been a male candidate. My gut says it would have been treated as less of a big deal if the information pertained to, say, Mitt Romney than Michele Bachmann,” said Republican political consultant Liz Mair, who advised Republican Carly Fiorina during her unsuccessful campaign to unseat Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., in 2010. “It is fair to say that women in politics often face challenges where the media is concerned that are somewhat different to those faced by men.”
Dianne Bystrom, director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University, has been doing research on the media coverage for male and female political candidates for the last 20 years. Her work shows that in the 1980s and 1990s, female candidates running for office at all levels of government received markedly different treatment in the press, with a focus on their appearance, their families, and so-called “feminine issues.” Those differences in treatment have faded over the last 30 years for most all offices—except for one.
“That doesn’t seem to be happening when a woman runs for president,” Bystrom said. “That same equity does not run over. We still see the gender stereotypes that we did in the early 1980s.”
Perhaps one among them: delicate Minnesotan congresswomen can’t handle their headaches.