Since becoming a member of Congress, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) has gotten a lot of heat from Democrats, media, and even her fellow Republicans. From her televised exuberance over being in the presence of President George W. Bush (she kissed him on the cheek to prove it) to the "Hands Off Our Healthcare!" rally she spearheaded recently on Capitol Hill, Bachmann might be only a sophomore in Congress, but her rap sheet reads like someone who's a veteran. Some swear she's doing the work few Republicans have the gumption to do; critics maintain she's just another good-looking, voluble (and perhaps crazy) politician who enjoys the spotlight.
Governor Sarah Palin counts herself among the former; she joined Bachmann for a rally last week in Minnesota. The local GOP sold 10,000 tickets. Conservative radio talk show host Sean Hannity even broadcast his show from the rally. At one point, with both women next to him, he asked the audience about 2012: "How many of you would like to see a Palin/Bachmann ticket?" The crowd roared. Both women smiled and Palin said that "sounds kinda cool." Even Chris Matthews mentioned Hannity's comment on his show -- kudos to him for his ability to hide his excitement more than rally attendees audience could.
This is the second time in a few months Bachmann has stirred up a crowd. In November, Bachmann spread the word about an anti-Obama-healthcare rally via stints on Sean Hannity's radio show and cable news. Upwards of 10,000 activists attended, waving signs that read "No Socialist Health Care" and chanting "Kill This Bill!"
Joined by other Republican leaders and actor and outspoken Republican Jon Voight, she told the crowd, "You came for an emergency House call and are they going to listen? Oh yeah, oh yeah. They're going to listen…What do you think?" The crowd roared in response.
Despite the vocal enthusiasm of her admirers, who came from as far as Indiana, Florida, and even Hawaii to join her, some discounted this as another event to add to Bachmann's repertoire of heated rhetoric and media stunts. The Bachmann rally was the butt of jokes on Comedy Central's The Colbert Report, which made the event its lead story. Colbert described Bachmann as "a woman so conservative she still opposed statehood for the Dakotas. This Bachmann tea bag overdrive was more than just a protest…Bachmann called it an insurgency." The crowd laughed in response.
The Daily Beast called the rally a "paranoid campaign" and Bachmann's leadership "antics." Indeed, Bachmann might be a "fireball" as Palin said in the rally Wednesday but her résumé is rock solid, though she's not your typical politician. She has a Ph.D. in tax law and she is a woman of faith who raised five biological children and 23 foster children before getting involved in politics via the local school board.
Bachmann has earned more incisive political labels. In 2008, Bachmann made national headlines when she said Obama was "anti-American." Democrats accused her of channeling McCarthy. Bachmann told Chris Matthews: "If we look at the collection of friends that Barack Obama has had in his life, it calls into question what Barack Obama's true beliefs and values and thoughts are…what it is that Barack Obama really believes?"… I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out if they are pro-America or anti-America."
Even before the episode with Matthews, Bachmann's loquacious lips landed her on Esquire's list of "The 10 Worst Members of Congress," which described her as "equal parts religious hack and party hack" and resolved she's "got spunk and not much else." An unpleasant description, to be sure, but consider the source: These folks share the same thinking as those who decided President Obama should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize after 11 days on the job.
Bachmann's ideas, rhetoric, and yes, gaffes, have earned her a few choice remarks from Republicans and perhaps even caused a few of her staff to bail. Recently Politico reported aide Michelle Marston was leaving on the eve of the November rally (Marston declined to give a reason why). In fact, Marston acted as Bachmann's chief of staff and was one of a few she's acquired since her election to Congress. In the article, a conservative Republican member of the House blamed the change-up on Bachmann's raucous behavior: "When your captain's crazy, it's time to find a new ship."
Still, Bachman's headline-grabbing stunts, time spent on talk radio and cable, and even labels from staff and peers would be worth it if she could put her money where her mouth gabbed. This is her second term as a U.S. Congresswoman. She has yet to sponsor and pass any effective legislation at all, let alone any related to the issues that put her in the spotlight -- though in her defense she's outnumbered, and to her credit, she has co-sponsored some good bills.
She's one of Hannity's favorite conservatives and she knows how to draw a crowd, but a November Rasmussen poll showed Bachmann's district may not love her as much as everyone else does. Fifty-one percent of likely voters said they somewhat approve of Bachmann's job performance and 45% disapprove. That could be more due to the fact that the district has been trending left in recent years, as local Democrats have picked up several state seats, rather than Bachmann's vocal conservatism.
Polls notwithstanding, there's something to be said for stirring up controversy, for driving mainstream media and Democrats mad, and most of all, for igniting passion within active, American people. After all, in the same Rasmussen poll, 54% percent of Republicans statewide said they like what she is doing. Bachmann and her rallies hearken back to the values upon which our country was founded, values held by people who so believed in the rights to assembly and redress they wrote it into the country's core.
Bachmann may have yet to pass solid legislation, but her ability to excite throngs of listeners and rally thousands of attendees may be an effective substitute, especially if they put their vote where she's directed their attention.
Nothing crazy about that.