Katy Burns: Bye bye, Michele Bachmann!
No, no, no, Michele! Don’t leave us, not yet. You are too young, too vibrant, too . . . well, you. Unique. And boy, are you quotable!
I refer, of course, to the inimitable Michele Bachmann, member of Congress from Minnesota and gift to the rest of us. Especially those of us who are humble columnists or cartoonists. I hate to whine, but it is hard to keep coming up with something to write about week after week after endless week. Hence essays on, say, the joys of cats or the usefulness of a well-stocked kitchen junk drawer.
You, Michele, were a gift that kept on giving. Some few people are, especially politicians. Craig (“I’m a loose cannon”) Benson was the gold standard among recent New Hampshire governors. And of course the last House of Representatives was certainly a target-rich environment, although a number of the greatest offenders were rejected last November.
On the national scene, we hit a jackpot during the last presidential primary. Except for Jon (“Who?”) Huntsman and staid and sober Mitt Romney, it was a cast of what we politely call colorful characters. It’s hard to top Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul and Herman Cain in an eccentricity contest.
Topping the list for sheer quotability, though, was Michele Bachmann, a pretty and petite bundle of religious zealotry and right-wing ideology who quickly became a star in the rapidly evolving Tea Party firmament. She first came to national attention in 2008, when she appeared on Chris Matthews’s Hardball on MSNBC and – after labeling Barack Obama “anti-American” – asked that “the American media . . . take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out, are they pro-America or anti-America?”
In Bachmann’s case, remember, quotability shouldn’t imply accuracy. In fact, as she rocketed to short-lived political stardom, she achieved equal fame – notoriety? – in the world of fact-checking.
“We have checked her 13 times and (found) seven of her claims to be false, and six have been found to be ridiculously false,” Bill Adair of PolitiFact
told Minnesota Public Radio in 2011.
In fact, he added, Bachmann “is unusual in . . . that she has never gotten a rating higher than false.”
Folks at the Washington Post, which had repeatedly awarded her comments four Pinocchio ratings, more than any other politician, were equally bemused by the Minnesota congresswoman. One wag there suggested a national day of mourning for fact-checkers when Bachmann said this week that she would not run again.
“Bachmann is not just fast and loose with the facts; she is consistently and unapologetically so,” said the Post’s Glenn Kessler.
Among the most flagrantly false statements singled out in the Post: “Barack Obama has a $1.4 billion-dollar-a-year presidency of perks and excess.” “70 percent of food stamps go to bureaucrats.” “The most personal, sensitive, intimate, private health care information is in the hands of the IRS.” And – my favorite – “I don’t think I said anything inaccurate in the debates.”
She is, of course, a climate-change denier – it is “all voodoo, nonsense, hokum, a hoax” – as is fashionable among the GOP faithful these days. But among the other loonier theories she voiced was the idea that God visits hurricanes and earthquakes on us to “get our attention” and that the HPV vaccine – designed to keep young women from contracting an illness that can lead to cervical cancer – causes “mental retardation.”
And Obamacare really rang alarm bells. The law, she said, “literally kills women, kills children, kills senior citizens” and will likely allow the IRS to “delay or deny access to health care” for conservatives.
Her grasp of history is as tenuous as her scientific acumen. The battles of Lexington and Concord took place in New Hampshire, she once explained. And “the very founders” who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the U.S Constitution “worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States.” She was only off by 90 or so years.
And forget gay people. Being gay is “personal enslavement,” she proclaimed. “It’s part of Satan.”
Satan’s role in contemporary life is vivid to Bachmann, as is God’s part. She married her husband because of a message from God. And God could be pretty specific in Bachmann’s world. For example, she studied tax law – which she hadn’t much interest in – because her husband urged her to do so, and God was speaking through him. God only knows what messages God would channel to a President Bachmann about, say, North Korean nukes.
For a few surreal moments we actually thought that a President Bachmann was a remote possibility. That was in 2011 in Iowa – what on earth is in the water in that state? – when Bachmann, riding high in the polls, stunned everyone, especially Mitt Romney, by winning the famously meaningless Iowa Straw Poll, a nakedly obvious fund-raiser designed to finance the Iowa Republican Party.
(Everyone involved, from candidates to reporters, knows perfectly well the Straw Poll is a fraud, but what the heck. It’s summer, and there’s not really much to do otherwise in corn and pork country.)
The notion that Bachmann could be elected president in even the craziest of years was preposterous. But that didn’t stop the punditocracy from hoping her wild ride continued for a while. At least, for some of us, long enough for her to get to the Granite State.
Alas. The Republican voters of Iowa came to their senses. Bachmann fell as fast as she rose, placing dead last in the Iowa caucuses, which (unlike the Straw Poll) actually count, sort of, and she dropped out of contention.
Now she is, in effect, dropping out of Congress. This probably means that no one will take up her Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act, which is apparently Bachmann’s sole claim to legislative fame, even if it ultimately didn’t pass.
It also likely means, sadly, that her future is as a TV talking head, not a presidential candidate. We are all the losers – especially those of us always hungering for good copy.
Ave atque vale, Michele. Hail and farewell. You’ll be missed.
(Monitor columnist Katy Burns lives in Bow.)