While media outlets and liberal pundits are rejoicing after Rep. Michele Bachmann announced she would not seek a fifth term for office in 2014, women are stopping to say, "Thank you for paving the way for political greatness."
The Minnesota Republican's announcement was released in a video to her supporters last week in which she said, "My good friends, after a great deal of thought and deliberation I have decided next year I will not seek a fifth congressional term to represent the wonderful people of the 6th District of Minnesota. After serious consideration I am confident this is the right decision."
It is not easy to run for political office — much less for president — but Mrs. Bachmann taught women that we can do it with poise and success. Remember, it was not long ago that conservative women had no national platform or political standing. Now, thanks to Mrs. Bachmann, we watched a woman win the Iowa straw poll and make a legitimate run for the White House. Whether you agree with her politics or not, one has to acknowledge that Mrs. Bachmann successfully wedged the door open a little further for women, jamming her high heel into the political landscape and showing the "good old boys" she was able to hold her own, even on the presidential debate platform.
According to a reporter friend of mine, he was at home watching the first 2012 GOP presidential debate in Iowa with his young daughter who turned to him and declared, "Dad, I want to be the president when I grow up. I want to be just like that lady." Don't we all?
Mrs. Bachmann shined during the presidential debates. Those of us who know her were not surprised, but the American public for the first time got a glimpse of her passion and grasp of policy by the way she elucidated her strong conservative principles. She came across with a great deal of clarity and intelligence. As commentators noted, she tended to outperform her much-more-experienced male counterparts in the debates. Daily Beast columnist Howard Kurtz admitted she shouldn't be underestimated, saying, "Bachmann is relatively new to the national stage, but as anyone who has watched her in action understands, she knows how to play this game."
However, the rhetoric became particularly foul and demeaning once the rest of the national press realized Mrs. Bachmann's overwhelming appeal to voters. The worst display of prejudice came in August 2011 when the liberal Newsweek magazine published an unflattering picture of the GOP presidential candidate. They purposefully turned an otherwise attractive conservative woman into someone who looks crazy and smeared her with the headline "Queen of Rage." Even the abortion-loving, man-hating National Organization for Women couldn't ignore the blatant discrimination and joined Concerned Women for America in defense of the candidate's dignity. This was all the more infuriating when contrasted with the lovingly airbrushed pictures of Michelle Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Most recently, an opinion column written by Gail Collins bid a mocking farewell to Mrs. Bachmann, comparing her and Sarah Palin's appearances to their popularity. Ms. Collins wrote, "You have to wonder if the secret is that, by political standards, they both look extremely hot. And if it's their appearance that made them such stars, is that for the benefit of the Tea Party men or the Tea Party women?"
What message are we sending women — especially conservative women — if nobody objects to a New York Times columnist essentially say they are nothing but a pretty face? It's no secret that conservative women are subject to more scrutiny than their male or liberal counterparts. Did anyone ever care what suit and tie combo the men wore during the debates? Of course not, but every media outlet critiqued how "presidential-looking" Mrs. Bachmann was. Forget the content of her speech — how did she look? Those who knew her weren't surprised to see Mrs. Bachmann neglect the usual gender-baiting and derogatory name-calling to which many hurt egos in Washington resort. Never once did she retaliate in slinging back insults, though there was plenty of ammunition. Voters and onlookers grew to respect her for being mature and focusing on the issues that mattered to her and the American people.
America needs more women in politics, and Mrs. Bachmann showed that conservative, pro-life, pro-family, fiscally responsible, intelligent women have a place at the table. Women like her have proven resilient and thick-skinned. In the end, it's never about being liked but fighting for the principles in which you believe. This is the legacy Michele Bachmann leaves behind, and conservative women are exceptionally grateful. We look forward to seeing what's next and, as my mother once told me, "Start to worry when they stop talking."
Penny Young Nance is CEO and president of Concerned Women for America.