WaPo on Bachmann’s Language

Blurting for dollars, blinking through debate

Two days, two takes from The Washington Post on Michele Bachmann’s language.

On Sunday, the Post coined the icky term “money blurt” to describe what it calls the “phenomenon” of “an up-and-coming politician blurt[ing] out something incendiary, provocative or otherwise controversial” which then “bounces around the blogs and talk shows” (but never, not ever, the newspapers) and “becomes a sensation” off of which the politician can then raise “bucket of cash.”

Or, as New York magazine put it, “Does it ever seem like there’s a cash reward for the politician who can say the craziest thing? Well, there sort of is.”

More Post:

The phenomenon marks another phase in the quest for money in politics, fueled by the eternal hum of the Internet, social media and 24-hour cable news. The tactic could prove especially valuable for insurgent candidates such as Bachmann who are likely to rely heavily on smaller donations for their 2012 campaigns.

The Post analyzed FEC data and “television appearances” and determined that Bachmann is “the real champion of money blurts.” To wit:

The first clear example came in October 2008, before Obama’s election, when Bachmann, on MSNBC’s “Hardball,” said, “I am very concerned that he may have anti-American views.” Bachmann, who until then was not particularly well known nationally, raised almost $1 million over the next few weeks, records show.

In the summer of 2010, Bachmann made a flurry of appearances on news and talk programs to tout her new Tea Party Caucus and ratchet up her criticism of Obama, including suggesting that impeachment might be a good idea. She also accused Obama of “infantilism” and “turning our country into a nation of slaves.”

Bachmann reeled in more than $5 million in contributions during the third quarter of 2010, her best fundraising period, FEC records show.

Also? That congressman who yelled “You lie!” at President Obama while Obama addressed Congress in 2009? He raised $2 million “within a week of the outburst…urged on by conservative bloggers” and his own campaign, the Post reports.

Towards the article’s end, the Post concedes (the to be sure! bit), “It’s hard to tell how much of the money-blurt phenomenon is truly spontaneous…or whether some outbursts are timed for maximum financial impact.” You mean even their outbursts—er, blurts—are calculated?

While Bachmann’s blurting may be so money, her blinking is apparently less so. In another Post piece, “body language expert” Carol Kinsey Goman (oh yes, campaign season is upon us!) assesses Bachmann’s apparently winning body language during last week’s debate. According to Goman, Bachmann projected “authority” by “wearing high heels, standing tall and keeping her shoulders back.” And:

[U]nlike the other candidates, Bachmann also had the warm-cue advantage of “baby face bias,” a term used to describe the tendency found in human beings across all age ranges and cultures to read innocence and candor in faces with features that are similar to an infant’s. (These characteristics include a round head, big eyes, small nose, high forehead and short chin.)

And yet, not all of Bachmann’s body language boded well. Writes Goman:

Bachmann’s only body language error may have been a cosmetic one: her decision to wear false eyelashes. Researchers who analyze politicians’ blink rate find that fast blinkers rarely win elections. Blink rates increase under stress, and they signal a candidate’s nonverbal reaction to pressure. While Romney has a fairly low blink rate, Bachmann has a moderately high one, and the false eyelashes she wore during the debate made her blinks much more obvious than those of her competitors.


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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.