Monday, June 20, 2011

Ian M. MacIsaac: A Study in Michele Bachmann, crazy lady of the 2012 Republican primary

Author's note: This is the final piece in a three-part series on Republican presidential candidates. The first concerned Newt Gingrich, and was published May 20; the second concerned Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, and Jon Huntsman , and was published May 26.

  I was surprised to see Michele Bachmann on the screen as I tuned in for the June 13 Republican presidential primary debate… She hasn’t even announced, has she? I thought to myself.

  I could barely believe her presidential candidacy had become a legitimate possibility—and then reality—in the first place.

  This is the woman who said that Glenn Beck would be the best person to fix the U.S. national debt, and who posited on Chris Matthews’ show in 2008 that Democratic congressional leaders should face an “expose” in a congressional committee whose purpose would be to decide if the said congressional leaders “are pro-America or anti-America.”

  A politician fifty years behind the times should not be allowed in a city council, much less be running for President. But it’s a free country, and Bachmann’s candidacy is a painful reality—like a cancer—that we are just going to have to deal with.


  A key trait of Bachmann’s, which was on full display at the first major Republican presidential primary debate—held in New Hampshire—is that not only does she say crazy shit all the time, but she is unable to even be on topic about it.

  For instance, when asked by CNN debate host John King about the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street bill, she instead began to squawk excitedly that only earlier that day she had filed the official papers to begin her presidential candidacy.

  That completely unrelated-to-the-question ‘bombshell’ announcement (as she termed it) garnered little more than a polite clap from the audience, followed a forced-sounding laugh from John King before he swung back into the question as quickly as he possibly could.

  And that was just the beginning of her shenanigans. In fact, seemingly not once was Bachmann called upon on during the debate that she did not respond with an answer completely or at least mostly unrelated to the question she was asked. In fact, her candidacy status was just about the only thing she gave a straightforward answer about all night.

  It wasn’t as if the other candidates at the debate (which included Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, Mitt Romney, and Tim Pawlenty, among others) faced questions of any actual magnitude themselves. All were softballs thrown by CNN’s aforementioned milquetoast-host John King.

  Other questions fielded by the candidates were asked via satellite by middle-aged or elderly quasi-rural white people from various hokey small towns scattered across New Hampshire.

  These same old folks get hauled out every four years for all sorts and varieties of debates and other political showmanship. They all make use of these wheeled-out middle-of-the-road types who are incapable of asking any question Bret Baier or Chris Matthews or some other tool couldn’t just ask himself. The questions were a disappointment, and it paved the way for some pretty wacky answers from the candidates, Bachmann in particular.

  Veteran Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne pretty much wrapped Bachmann up when he mused recently that “Bachmann does a better job of being Palin than Palin does.”

  Reading that op-ed only hours before the debate began, I couldn’t help but agree more and more with him as Bachmann spoke for what felt like forever with that really grating and annoyingly accented voice of hers, spouting seemingly randomly-plucked talking points in place of traditional “answers” to “questions.”

  Of course, Palin is known for doing the same thing. But from what I can tell, Palin doesn’t answer questions because she’s just too damn incoherent to do so. God bless the poor woman, she’s trying so hard.

  The difference is, Bachmann is intentionally incoherent—or, more specifically, is incoherent to the great majority of voters while being perfectly intelligible to the average Teabagger.

  It’s like she and her friends on the apocalyptic-Christian-teabagging-far-right speak another language. She shoots out siren signals to her Tea Party faithful and then pretends she didn’t say what she is on tape saying. It’s a ridiculously manipulative way to build a political persona, but it stirs something in her hardcore supporters (which, really, are her only supporters.)


  The congresswoman who strode onto the stage became, for the length of the debate, less of a human being with thoughts and opinions and more of a jukebox of slogans and reheated Tea Party talking points. Which is a fitting performance, in the end, for the infamously erroneous and off-topic Bachmann.

  Not one of the commoners looked satisfied by her answers to their questions, and in most cases it was blatantly clear why. A self-styled ‘freelance journalist’ who looked more like the head of New Hampshire’s most rural sewing circle wanted to know “what three steps” each of the candidates would take “to repeal Obamacare.”

  Bachmann’s long and rambling answer contained far more than three steps, but what was even more awkward was the way she stared at the lady on the satellite screenthe whole time she answered her question. It was not necessarily a violation of decorum, but it was definitely weird, and a little creepy, since it left Bachmann glaring up into the rafters for the better part of 90 seconds as a crowd of 2,000 watched from a completely different angle. This is the kind of amateur-hour mistake Bachmann is known for, though.

  It didn’t get any better from there. About ten minutes later, she was asked by an ex-cop if she could be more than just a Tea Party candidate; her response began with “As the Chairman of the House Tea Party Caucus…” Sigh.

  It went characteristically downhill from there. In a response diametrically opposed to the interests of the voter who asked the question in the first place, she loudly endorsed the Tea Party as made up of mostly “disaffected Democrats and independents… a wide swath of America coming together… to take the country back.” The guy who asked the question just looked bewildered as he sat back down, John King doing his signature stutter-mumble over the last thirty seconds of her thirty-seconds-too-long response to the question.

  When John King asked her later whether she would support raising the federal debt ceiling if it was called for financially, she balked at giving a straight yes-or-no answer and instead went on a grammatically questionable spiel about how President Obama opposed raising the debt ceiling as a U.S. Senator as well, but had reneged on that policy position as chief executive.

  And somehow she wound it all up with a closing statement about making budget cuts. (If you’ve heard of South Park’s “Chewbacca defense,” this is a really good example.) By the second half of the debate, King had given up and just started asking her questions like “Elvis or Johnny Cash?”


  The sad truth is that nothing she said at the debate was any crazier and less factual than her now-famous and absolutely nonsensical rants and raves about the Founders and her Christian religious beliefs.

  This is a politician who actually believes that as many scientists reject evolutionary biology as understand it. This is a politician who—like Sarah Palin—seems to think that all the Founding Fathers were conservative Christians who all agreed with each other about everything. (In a twist of irony, most of that era’s conservative Christians were British loyalists.)

  This Republican presidential candidate thinks that making exceptions for abortion in cases of rape, incest, or risk to the life of the mother is a cop out. She said as much at the debate. She does not seem to understand that it doesn’t matter how good anti-immigrant rhetoric sounds—if all the country’s illegal immigrants were kicked out, the economy would most definitely hit a double-dip recession. But, as Michele’s hero Ronald Reagan once said, facts are stupid things.

  She is the queen of making ignorant and provocative statements and then refusing to specify what she meant. She will rarely even admit later on to even having said what she said.

  It’s a borderline sociopathic routine that far surpasses Sarah Palin in its demonstration of political skill. Make no mistake about it, Bachmann is definitely dumb; but, like a raccoon, she has sharp instincts that render her a cunning beast and a fierce opponent for even the sharpest of rivals.


  She is not a fictional presidential candidate, but she is a presidential candidate who inhabits a fictional universe.

  Not like the world of presidential elections and debates isn’t nutty enough already. This is a political environment where “Coke or Pepsi?” is right up there with whether or not to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. It’s surreal, if not fictional.

  Just the kind of environment Bachmann would thrive in, you’d think. But there’s no way she will get past even the first few primaries. But her candidacy alone is scary enough for any rational politics addict in America-or it’s just really funny in a pathetic way.

  She will definitely do terribly in New Hampshire, which she erroneously referred to as the “Live Free or Die State” as opposed to its official nickname, the Granite State. (‘Live free or die’ is New Hampshire’s state motto.) Knowing New Hampshire voters, that’s probably all they will need to rule her out almost immediately. New Hampshire is establishment territory, not pitchfork-teabagger territory.

  Her only hope for making more than a flash-in-the-pan at all for herself is Iowa, and its hordes of unthinking and evangelical-church going social conservatives.

  Hell, they adore far-right social views so much in Iowa that Mike Huckabee won there in 2008, despite being outspent more than ten to one there by Mitt Romney (who, incidentally and rather wisely, is this time completely skipping Iowa in favor of New Hampshire, close to his Massachusetts, where he served as Governor).

  Maybe Bachmann simply sees the same path for herself—post-election FOX News television show and all. Anyone who can break geopolitics down into “America is the head, not the tail” deserves a talk show, not a spot on a presidential stage.

  And I would have to say a TV show—like Palin and Huck wound up with—is almost certainly the most Bachmann can hope to procure from this presidential primary. Like Sarah Palin, she has a very specific slice of extreme conservative voters to whom her apocalyptically Christian and right-wing politics appeals. Not to mention that her aforementioned extreme Christian conservatism is overlaid with such a manipulative political dark side.

  These myriad reasons ensure that Bachmann will never be able to expand beyond that constituency enough to actually win the Republican presidential nomination. Republicans have certainly gotten more right-wing in recent years, but they haven’t gotten that goddamn crazy.

  So go you, Michele. Get all the attention you can for yourself in this silly, overextended Republican primary before you lose South Carolina—maybe you’ll place a respectable second or third—and bow out respectfully…probably not making an endorsement until the primary is over…and probably spending the rest of 2012 looking for ways to make more money.

  After all, Sarah Palin wasn’t up on that stage last week. What do you think she is doing right now?

  About the author: Ian MacIsaac is a staff writer for the Capital City Free Press. He is a history major at Auburn University Montgomery in Montgomery, Alabama and former co-editor of the school newspaper, the AUMnibus.

Copyright © Capital City Free Press

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