CNN's Chetry, Newsweek's Miller Agree: 'Mama Grizzlies' Phenomenon Misleading Because Candidates Largely Oppose Liberal Policies

Are "Mama Grizzlies" who oppose state children's health insurance programs (S-CHIP) and teachers' unions unfaithful to their maternal name? CNN anchor Kiran Chetry joined Newsweek's Lisa Miller Monday in wondering if that is so. Miller appeared on CNN's "American Morning" to feature her most recent piece on "Mama Grizzlies," prominent female conservatives in the vein of Sarah Palin.

"All the candidates that we – whose records we looked at, are against the Obama health plan in general, and yes, the CHIP program in specific," reported Miller, a senior editor for Newsweek. "There are rising numbers of poor children in this country, a quarter of America's children are poor. It seems like a funny way to say that you're for kids, and be against all of these programs."

Miller ultimately concluded that the "Mama Grizzlies" movement will fall short of its political goals, because "the issues facing the country are complex, and bears are not."

"Do we really want bears to solve our problems?" Miller quipped at the end of the segment.  

Kiran Chetry agreed that the candidates' positions may contradict their maternal title. "I guess if you strip away the core message of the Tea Party candidates, which Sarah Palin has really helped endorse, they just want less government, they want less spending. That, unfortunately at times, butts up against things that many say would be good for kids."

Among the examples of "Mama Grizzlies" failing to help America's children? Both Miller and Chetry noted the candidates' opposition to S-CHIP programs, teachers' unions, Pell Grants, and Obamacare as evidence.

Nevada Republican Senate nominee Sharron Angle's opposition to a domestic violence bill in the Nevada state legislature and Minnesota Republican Rep. Michelle Bachmann's vote against a federal parental-leave policy drew some attention as well.

So who on the Democratic side would make a good "Mama Grizzly?" Miller said Hillary Clinton would, being a "powerful woman and a mom," although she wouldn't admit it.

A partial transcript of the segment, which aired on September 27 at 8:14 a.m. EDT, is as follows:

KIRAN CHETRY: It's interesting, because when you take a look at some of the candidates she's referring to, and we can talk about some of them, they aren't necessarily all on the same page with each other when it comes to some of these issues. I mean, is this sort of a coherent set of ideas, or is it more of a marketing tool?

LISA MILLER, Senior Editor, Newsweek: Right, well, I mean, I would say – and we say at the end of the story that it is really more of a marketing tool. It's a very compelling image, right? Everybody who's a parent has that feeling of wanting to protect their kids. And if we make it America's kids, or our kids, you know, our future, it's a very powerful image.

On the other hand, you know, Christine O'Donnell for example isn't a mom. So she talks about our grandchildren in speeches, but she's not actually a "Mama Grizzly." And then on things like education, the "Grizzlies" are really all over the place. You know, Sarah Palin is actually quite progressive on education. She has always talked about paying teachers more. In Alaska, she ramped up the budget for the Department of Education over and over again before she left the position of Governor of Alaska. She promised a big infusion of money to the schools. Whereas Angle and Bachmann are known for sort of hating the teachers' unions, fighting back against lobbyists. All of them, many of them, have this anti-Department of Education position, you know, parents know what's good for kids, and administrators and bureaucrats should get out.

CHETRY: Right, but just because you're against the Department of Ed doesn't mean you're not for kids getting a better education.

MILLER: I guess that's true. On the other hand, you know, a lot of them have voted for – against things like Start, programs for poor kids, Pell Grants, which are to help, you know, poor kids get college education –

CHETRY: Right, and this is the interesting part. Because, I mean, I guess if you strip away the core message of the Tea Party candidates, which Sarah Palin has really helped endorse, is they just want less government, they want less spending. That, unfortunately at times, butts up against things that many say would be good for kids. We have Bachmann, Michelle Bachmann in the Congress, and Nikki Haley who are both against the State Children's Health Insurance Program, that provides health care to poor children.

MILLER: All the candidates that we – whose records we looked at, are against the Obama health plan in general, and yes, the CHIP program in specific. There are rising numbers of poor children in this country, a quarter of America's children are poor. It seems like a funny way to say that you're for kids, and be against all of these programs.  

CHETRY: Yeah, the other issue that you talked about is the voting against – was it Angle who voted against a Domestic Violence bill in the Nevada legislature?

MILLER: Yes, and Bachmann voted against a federal parental-leave policy for federal employees. So when you have a new baby, time off. That seems like a good thing for kids.

CHETRY: Is there a Democratic equivalent to the "Mama Grizzly" phenomenon on the other side?

MILLER: Well, I mean, I think, you know, you could call Hillary Clinton a "Mama Grizzly," right? She's a powerful woman, she's a mom. But I don't think she would ever call herself a "Mama Grizzly." She doesn't fit in to this demographic.

CHETRY: You wrote in an interesting line at the end of the article that said in the wild, real "Mama Grizzlies" are known to be aggressive, irrational, and mean. The issues facing the country are complex, and bears are not. So what is the upshot of this?

MILLER: Well, I mean, I think, you know, it's a great marketing tool, as we said at the outset. You know, calling upon women's primal maternal instincts is a good thing, but let's think about it. I mean, this is a very divided country, and we have some big problems to solve. Do we really want bears to solve our problems?
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014