Yes, She's Serious: While You're Laughing, Michele Bachmann Is Gearing Up To Fight
Michele Bachmann, the Republican presidential candidate, is having a very good week. What's that, you say?
You mean even after she mistook serial killer John Wayne Gacy for right-wing culture hero John Wayne?
Even after her laughable attempt to claim a 9-year-old John Quincy Adams as one of the founding fathers, in a vain effort to justify her earlier claim that that august patriarchal body "worked tirelessly to end slavery"?
Even after her supporters apparently tried to edit Wikipedia's entry on JQA to support her claim?
You mean even -- even -- after ThinkProgress revealed that her husband had declared, on a radio broadcast, that gay people are "barbarians" who need "to be disciplined"?
Yes indeed. With all eyes upon her, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., chair of the Tea Party Caucus in the House of Representatives, had an excellent week. Because she doesn't care what you think. She doesn't need you. And that's why you must take her seriously.
In our bizarre presidential primary system, it's the early states that really matter -- states whose populations do not mirror the diversity of the nation at large. Eager for a story, the national media begins to assemble on the ground the better part of a year ahead these early contests, which consequently serve as the nation's introduction to the candidates. And it just so happens that the three most important early states have populations that, among those who vote in a Republican primary, skew far to the right on the GOP stage. So Bachmann will enjoy an advantage -- at least in Iowa and South Carolina, if not New Hampshire -- among the battalions of evangelical Christians who will vote in those primaries. In addition to her religious cred, Bachmann's got the hearts of Tea Party enthusiasts, whose movement has significant overlap with the religious right.
Many are the progressives and liberals, all too inclined to look to the next election as the means of political salvation, who may actually cheer the ascendance of Bachmann as an obvious display of the crazy that underlies today's Republican Party, thinking that reasonable people will never vote for her in a general election. And they may be right in that assumption. But each time a politician as far to the right as Bachmann is accrues power in the GOP, the worse it is for all of us. The long-term process, you see, pushes the party ever further to the right, but sooner or later, voters tire of the Democrats and vote in the Republicans in an anybody-but-you-guys tantrum. And if, at that time, the GOP is ruled by the David Koch wing of the party, we're all pretty well screwed.
The Victim Card
One of the things right-wing leaders have done so brilliantly is to convince their constituents that the mainstream media are hopelessly biased in favor of liberals and liberal policies -- so much so, that virtually nothing reported by mainstream outlets is believed to be reported as simple matters of fact. Whether it's the science of climate change or the gaffes of Michele Bachmann, right-wingers reject every iota of the mainstream media narrative, turning their gaze and their ears instead to the spin of the right-wing media machine. It's a perfectly closed system, impenetrable by any who dwell outside the tribe.
Each mainstream media report of Bachmann's mangled version of history, and every question she gets from a journalist, such as [PDF] CBS News' Bob Schieffer (who is hardly a liberal, by the way), about her revisions to the nation's story, are regarded as attacks born of bias. Add in the long history of sexist treatment of women candidates (which is likely to continue for the foreseeable future), and Bachmann's defenders can earnestly exclaim to her base that she is treated differently from her fellow candidates, all men, by the sexists of the allegedly liberal mainstream media. And Bachmann will, no doubt, be subjected to sexist punditry at some point during the race -- and it will likely play to her favor.
At her speech [video] to the Americans for Prosperity Foundation's RightOnline conference in Minneapolis last month, Bachmann deftly laid the gender card in preparation for a future defense based on sexism. The clear favorite of this Tea Party crowd among the presidential candidates present, Bachmann appeared fresh off her triumph of the presidential candidates debate hosted by CNN the previous week in New Hampshire.
Before the RightOnline crowd, she poked fun at the "this or that" questions posed during the debate by moderator John King, who asked each of the candidates to name their preferences within a set of consumer goods. "Coke or Pepsi?" King asked former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty. (Answer: Coke.) "Thin crust or deep dish?" he asked Herman Cain, the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza. (Deep dish.) Asked to choose between Elvis or Johnny Cash, Bachmann demurred and said she liked them both, though Elvis' Christmas music was on her iPod. (Don't you wish she had been asked to choose between Lady Gaga and James Brown?)
"I had a little case of the nerves before I went up there," she told the RightOnliners, "and it really was centered on the fact that I thought they might ask the candidates the question, 'Boxers or briefs?' What's a girl s'posed to do?"
Then there's the class resentment that breathes fire into the Tea Party crowd that leads to the dismissal of nearly anything that comes out of the mouths of such "cultural elites" as reporters. If the self-proclaimed smart set says Bachmann is dumb, you can bet the Tea Partiers and evangelicals will line up behind her. Media figures, these motivated voters have been told, think Tea Partiers and evangelicals are dumb, too. (And there's some truth to that depiction of reporters.)
A Talented Speaker
While Bachmann is still a long way from mastering the art of the television appearance, give her prepared remarks and set her before a friendly audience, and she's firmly in charge. Few politicians can sell a well-crafted speech as well as she. You don't believe me? Then check out the video below this story of Bachmann's appearance at last year's RightOnline conference in Las Vegas. There, the mission with which she was charged was nothing short of selling an audience of older people on the wisdom of ending Social Security. And she did one heckuva job.
After spelling out a plan very like the scheme that House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has crafted for a phase-out of Medicare, Bachmann called for "private-sector solutions" to replace government-funded Social Security for everybody under the age of 55 at the time such legislation should pass. The room got very quiet. It was a necessary measure, she said, to ensure the prosperity of younger generations. Then, as her big wind-up, she used an iconic story from World War II to drive home her point, that of a sinking ship on which four chaplains (two with evocative names -- Washington and Goode), gave their life vests to younger seamen, as there were not enough to go around. And the young men in lifeboats watched in awe as the chaplains sacrificed their lives so that the young might thrive.
Bachmann told the story with the pathos a preacher could only wish to possess.
The Religious Right and Bachmann's Personal Story
Although the astroturfers who rally the Tea Party movement would have you believe theirs is a solely secular movement, the truth is that the overlap between the religious right and the Tea Party movement is significant. Bachmann however, doesn't rely on this confluence alone; she's not about to lose anybody on the edges, either -- especially not the non-Tea Party, right-wing evangelical whose activism lives in a politicized church and not a corporate-funded protest movement. In telling her own personal story, Bachmann testifies to possessing all the touchstones of right-wing evangelism, especially right-wing, evangelical femininity. Her status and role as a mother is clearly important to her at a deeply personal level, and she isn't shy about touting her life as the mother of five, and foster mother of 23.
Lately, in explaining her hard-core opposition to abortion, Bachmann has taken to telling the story of the miscarriage of what would have been her third child, saying that that heartbreak solidified her opposition to choice. She doesn't stop to consider the role of intention in the quality of the heartbreak, or to claim for a pregnant woman the agency to proclaim whether or not her fetus is intended to become her child. With her veneration of her hagiographic vision of the founding fathers, lack of compassion for women in situations not like hers, and her rejection of non-heterosexual orientation as a natural and dignified condition, Bachmann is a female patriarchist, the quintessential mother-figure for an evangelical audience. Trim and attractive, strong but self-deprecating, able to riff a prayer in any setting, she emanates the feminine perfectionism demanded of women in the evangelical setting.
At a women's panel at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., last February, Bachmann spoke of having grown up as a child of divorced parents, and how she was determined not to have to live a life like that of her mother's. It had the ring of honesty -- you could almost feel the force of will with which she built her perfect, morally upright life -- as an attorney trained at the evangelical Oral Roberts University, and as a mother to many.
So when Bachmann's husband, Marcus Bachmann, was found this week by ThinkProgress to have called gay people "barbarians" in need of "discipline," her evangelical street cred only went up. (Dr. Marcus Bachmann is believed to be a practitioner of "gay reparative therapies.")
In Iowa and South Carolina, the right wing organizes turnout in the caucuses and primaries through a network of evangelical churches that have been active in politics since the 1980s and '90s, organized by Ralph Reed when he served as executive director of the Christian Coalition. The Defense of Marriage Act was born of this network during the 1996 Iowa caucuses when, at a megachurch in Des Moines, the Republican candidates all assembled on a wickedly cold February night -- the night before the caucus votes -- to sign a pledge to never recognize any marriages of LGBT people at the federal level. Today, Reed is organizing on the ground in Iowa with his Faith and Freedom Coalition, a melding of the religious right infrastructure with the Tea Party movement. Bachmann would appear to be a perfect candidate.
The Running Mate From Kochistan?
But Bachmann's fuel comes not simply from the fire of the Holy Spirit, but also through energy of a more earthly kind -- the support of the astroturf organization founded by petroleum magnate David Koch, Americans for Prosperity and the Americans for Prosperity Foundation. Long before she dreamed of being president, Bachmann was a frequent speaker at Americans for Prosperity Foundation events; in Congress Bachmann takes the right flank to Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, another Americans for Prosperity favorite.
When Bachmann delivered her famously "rogue" response to the president's State of the Union address last January, she didn't annoy House Republican leaders simply by creating competition to their message; they had already chosen a Koch favorite in Paul Ryan to issue the official response, likely the result of pressure from Koch-affiliated interests. Bachmann's off-the-reservation, internet-video response seemed to be a message from the Koch constituency that they would not be easily appeased.
In the the GOP race as constituted so far, the Koch wing of the GOP again has two players -- Bachmann, who could win Iowa and maybe South Carolina, and Herman Cain, whose message seems targeted for New Hampshire. Often, when a candidate decides to leave the national primary race, he will pledge the delegates he's acquired so far to another candidate. If Bachmann stays alive past South Carolina, she'd be the likely recipient of Herman Cain's delegates once he decides to leave the stage.
However unlikely a Bachmann for President candidacy is in the general election, a Bachmann for Veep candidacy seems highly likely -- especially if former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney wins the nomination. (I know this is so, because James Taranto, member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board, which is closely linked with David Koch and Americans for Prosperity, told me so.) Romney, a comparatively moderate Republican and a Mormon (a faith viewed with deep suspicion by many evangelicals), will need a right-wing Christian to run on his ticket. A right-wing woman would inject an air of freshness into a campaign waged against the nation's first black president.
Michele Bachmann, mother to many and friend to Big Oil, is aiming to be a heartbeat away from the presidency.