In a campaign field that includes a twice-divorced anti-gay-marriage candidate who took an oath against adultery and who believes in mining the moon, it takes a special candidate to stand out. Michele Bachmann is just that special.
As she prepares to caucus dead last in her "home state" of Iowa, Minnesota's 6th District Congresswoman insists she still has a chance to win the Republican nomination for president. Odder things have happened, like that time one day's worth of lamp oil lasted eight.
Like a lot of impossible things Bachmann says—from claiming the HPV vaccine causes retardation, to the fact Obama is grooming NASA "for outreach to the Muslim community," to the Alaskan wildlife refuge oil development being good for wildlife habitats because of "the warmth of the pipeline"—she probably believes herself. "We think people are going to be very surprised with what the vote is tonight," Bachmann said this morning in Iowa. But sometimes God calls on us to do things He never intends us to achieve. And when we pray to Him and ask why… well, He's busy helping Tim Tebow make the playoffs.
So what will God ask Michele Bachmann to do now that the Minnesota congresswoman has spent the summer telling the world she's an "Iowa girl?"
Bachmann is despised (and even sometimes loved) for her social positions. When the Congresswoman gets "glitter-bombed" at some event, it's not because last year the conservative leader of the Tea Party Caucus spent 46 cents per each mass mailing compared to the 22 to 28 cents spent by her Minnesota colleagues. When some joker programs a "Bachmann Crazy Eyes App," it's not because between 2008 and 2009, the heart of the financial crisis, Bachmann's staff salary increased 26 percent.
Bachmann, who has made it a campaign point to accuse her primary opponents of being bought and paid for, has lived the lavish life for a couple weeks nearly every summer at the expense of pro-Israel lobbyists. A new book, The Madness of Michele Bachmann, notes that Bachmann and her family "enjoyed free trips to Israel in 2007, 2008 and 2009, to the tune of $44,380." In 2009, a single trip for the rep and her daughter ran $19,414.74. All compliments of the American Israel Education Foundation. (Late last spring, Bachmann began a speech: "I am convinced in my heart and in my mind, that if the United States fails to stand with Israel, that is the end of the United States.")
A collection of reporting, insight and posts from the authors behind the blogs DumpBachmann.com and Ripple in Stillwater, The Madness of Michele Bachmann paints a finger-painting of a Congresswoman who has made a career of refusing to comply with both the explicit and implicit rules of "the game" even while making herself out to be a victim when opponents and detractors do likewise.
Though it does a remarkable job keeping the sarcastic, spiteful commentary to an absolute minimum, the book, like its authors, is biased. Yet its straightforward recounting of Bachmann's lesser known boondoggles—like personal rapid transit, or the third party commercial she unblushingly shot inside the state legislative chambers—raises a journalism conundrum: Is it actually bias to just state the facts?
To say the book is a hit piece would not be a misstatement. But it's a hit piece that reflects the authors' longstanding coverage of a politician who, even by the standards of the circus of late-stage American democracy, is a clown. (The founding author of Dump Bachmann was a Republican; another is a constituent.) While a lot of Bachmann's migraine-inducing mutterings are contained in "The Quotable Bachmann," the final chapter, the book's focus is well beyond the worn media trail of "crazy eyes" that launched one- and three-dollar-a-word profiles by Rolling Stone and The New Yorker and that controversial Newsweek cover.
For example, the book recounts Bachmann's abysmal voting record. While the average Congressional missed-vote percentage was 3.8 percent, Bachmann missed 11 percent of all votes (25th worst of 435 members). And that was before God told her to run for president. Between June and September of 2011, Bachmann missed 58.7 percent of all House votes. Since September, she's missed 91.3 percent. In a shocking display, Bachmann even missed the November vote "Reaffirming “In God We Trust” as the official motto of the United States and supporting and encouraging the public display of the national motto in all public buildings."
In the Bachmann style encountered over and over again in the book, this tardiness has not stopped her from slamming those who voted for the "gimmick" extension.
Madness is an amusing encyclopedia devoted to one candidate. But it is also a condemnation of our system.
Many know that Bachmann has never carried Stillwater, the town most often listed as her home. Less well-known is that the majority of her funding comes from outside her district. As the book notes, during Bachmann's first Congressional campaign, "78 percent of itemized campaign contributions came from outside the 6th." In the last quarter of that campaign, "a whopping 91 percent came from outside the 6th." Bachmann is a proxy for wealthy Evangelicals like Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel, who, along with his wife, eavily supported Bachmann both personally and through Target's PAC until a huge outcry by gay activists in 2010. Steinhafel lives in Minnesota's 3rd district. But many like him from outside the state have also backed Bachmann, their own modern Joan of Arc.
Another major Bachmann funder from outside her district was Frank Vennes, Jr. Vennes, currently under indictment, was the largest gravy pipe for Tom Petters, the architect of a billion-dollar Minnesota Ponzi scheme you've never heard of because it was uncovered at the same time as Madoff's larger Ponzi scheme. The book's authors have been dogging Vennes forever and dedicate an entire chapter of the book to a convincing case for how Bachmann shilled for a presidential pardon for an earlier Vennes crime in exchange for massive donations to her campaign. Incidentally, larger-profile media have recently taken interest in Vennes. Showing just how influential (and generally uncredited) their work on Bachmann has been, The New Republic recently used one of the authors' photos of Vennes for its Petters-Vennes-Bachmann cover story. Having failed to credit much info in the piece to the Dump Bachmann and Ripple blogs, the magazine probably didn't think twice about using the photo. (The author has since sued The New Republic.)
But she is also, by the very design of our representative democracy, a proxy for her electorate. Every time one sees Bachmann, the words "Anoka School District" should come to mind. Anoka, a northern Minneapolis suburb, is a core of the Congresswoman's 6th district support and also home to nine student suicides in just two years, many of them gay, others rumored to have been gay-bullied. Last year, the school was sued by students, who allege its administration has negligently and intentionally created a hostile and anti-gay atmosphere. The school maintains a policy of refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of homosexuality. It's a policy driven by the locals.
Much of the Congressional (and school) district's atmosphere of homophobia is set by pro-Bachmann groups like the Parents Action League and the Minnesota Family Council, which, as the book notes, opposes "the health risks to students who are affirmed and labeled as 'gay'" and "pro-gay activist teachers." The Minnesota Family Council is also the organization behind November's ballot initiative that, if passed, will amend the state constitution to ban gay marriage. One of the few bills Bachmann ever authored as a state senator was Minnesota's first effort to ban gay marriage in 2003. Several later bills also failed and the issue was finally made a ballot initiative in 2011 by Republican legislatures, the leader of which, Senator Amy Koch, just resigned over an extramarital affair with an aide.
Bachmann is not some fluke, an unraveled thread on an otherwise good sweater. She exists exactly as the framers of our democracy intended, to represent the primary interests of a select group of Americans.
It's a damning thing, this book. But it probably won't hurt Bachmann, whose reputation with her faithful is coated in teflon and smeared with a thick layer of Astroglide by home-schooled kids with soft hands. Even if the new book contained a naked photo of her participating in a lesbian orgy where everyone was injecting each other with HPV vaccine from Planned Parenthood, Bachmann would likely come out with about the same level of support. And that brings us to the worst possible outcome when it comes to Michele Bachmann: nothing happens.
Unlike Fred Thompson, there will be no reverse mortgage shilling. There will be no too-smart-by-half pistachios commercial. Those who say she'll join Fox News like Huckabee don't understand Bachmann. Huckabee is generally a nice guy. Nobody, even grumpy old people, want to watch an hour of the kind of fire and brimstone Bachmann sells. For that they have church.
Bachmann has committed to not running for her old seat in 2012. Bachmann frames this commitment as an issue of principle. It's really an issue of Minnesota law, which forbids candidates from simultaneously campaigning for dual federal offices. When Bachmann finally loses enough primaries, or runs out of money, she can still return to the 6th where her deadline to declare for her position is June 5th. It's worth noting Bachmann's recent behavior has not warmed her already chilly relationship with Minnesota's Republican Party, which, anyway, is now a smoking crater of debt, scandal, rudderlessness.
Despite spending like a drunken sailor, both of Bachmann's last two elections have been won thanks in part to what's been called "The Anderson Effect," in which any candidate named "Anderson" on any Minnesota ballot inexplicably pulls a large number of voters. In Minnesota's 6th, that Anderson is Independence Party candidate Bob Anderson. In both 2008 and 2010, Bob Anderson sucked votes from Bachmann's opponent.
In 2008, she was sent back to Congress with only 46 percent of her district's votes. (Coincidentally, the latest Rasmussen poll puts President Obama's approval rating at 46 percent.) In 2010, in the greatest Republican election landslide of all time, Bachmann garnered 52 percent of the 6th. To accomplish this, she spent $8.5 million, more than any other member of Congress. It was the first time Bachmann managed to get more than 50 percent of her district's votes.
When Bachmann and crusaders slouch home from their defeat in far-off lands, they may find the kingdom much changed. On January 4th, a five judge panel will begin hearing arguments about the proposed changes to Minnesota's congressional districts, as the Republican legislature and Democrat governor having been unable to reach agreement. Depending on how the justices side, Bachmann could come away sharing a district with another incumbent Republican. She might also land in a shifted district with a strong incumbent Congressional Democrat. Then there's the open race against Democrat Amy Klobuchar, a popular senator with Minnesotans.
But since Bachmann has been pitching herself as a job-creating small business owner, one would hope she could always fall back on that.
Bachmann is a national clown and a global embarrassment, an extremist so foul that she poses nearly as much of a threat to Republican legislators as to Democratic ones. She's a Republican bomb-thrower who forgets the throwing part. Both parties will certainly be glad to be rid of her. But Bachmann's repose only means the absence of the messenger, not the absence of those who paid for the message.
Photo via Bachmann 2012 Facebook page.