Bomber pilot lore has it that if you’re taking flak, you know you’re over the target, and it is with that observation in mind that sniping at outgoing Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) is best understood. Karl Rove -- he of the mediocre record as a political fixer and the “Turd Blossom” nickname from friend George W. Bush -- says Bachmann did “nothing” as chairman of the Tea Party Caucus in the House of Representatives. In the Roveian calculus (such as it is), Bachmann gets no credit for eight years of living rent-free in progressive heads. Had her sojourn as a Congresscritter been as inert as Rove now pretends it was, the news of Bachmann’s decision not to run for re-election next year would not have occasioned as many hit pieces as it has.
One writer smugly compiled a list of “Michele Bachmann’s 19 greatest fibs, flubs, and head-scratchers,” many of which were jabs at conservative beliefs rather than mistakes or mendacities peculiar to Bachmann. The same writer would have had considerably more material to work with had he assembled a list of “fibs and flubs” retailed by President Obama, but because he’s blind to the irony of waging war on the reputation of a Republican woman while commiserating with fellow Democrats about the “war on women,” such a list will never see the light of day.
Over at the American Prospect, criticism of Bachmann was more refined but no less venomous, complete with a telling aside about how the “unhinged insanity of all this is worth noting.” What’s insane, you might ask, and how did Michele Bachmann bring the crazy? Well, it turns out that among the self-proclaimed smart set, worrying publicly about Iranian nuclear capability, associating mandatory vaccination with increased risk for autism, and trying to ban pornography are all on par with hearing policy directives in the snap, crackle, and pop of your breakfast cereal. What Thomas Sowell once called “The Vision of the Anointed” brooks no dissent.
More troubling still, according to the “think piece” at the American Prospect, Bachmann’s view of President Obama as a dangerous left-wing tyrant is “shared by many on the right.” The number of possible rejoinders to that is bountiful indeed: everything from “Quelle horreur!” to “Who knew?” Unfortunately, sarcasm is lost on writers who won’t do even basic research. Case in point: The Atlantic Wire published a valedictory for Bachmann titled “Crazy Isn’t as Crazy Was.” With editorial allegiance clear up front, the piece insists that Bachmann, “like most of the other Republican candidates” in the run-up to the 2012 election, was “anti-immigration.” Apparently the gulf between “legal” and “illegal” immigration is not a distinction that liberal fact checkers are willing to make; it must be too much like brain science or rocket surgery.
The same inattention to detail manifests itself in the supposedly damning observation that Bachmann will not be remembered for championing any signature pieces of legislation. This, we are given to understand, is evidence of failure on her part. It might be, but for the inconvenient fact that one of the founding precepts of the Tea Party movement in American politics is the idea that we already have too much legislation. Remember former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s enthusiasm for the so-called “Affordable Care Act,” and her curious claim that “We have to pass the bill so you can find out what’s in it”? Given what we now know about the current administration, that inversion of the legislative process makes no sense even on its own terms: the Bill of Rights has been the law of the land for generations, yet executive and judicial branches of our federal government seem not to know what’s in it. And as the majority in Griswold v. Connecticut made clear, liberal jurisprudence looks not at the plain constitutional text, but at “penumbras” and “emanations” from that text.
By Tea Party lights, adding more legislation to the existing pile is perverse, and arguably contrary to the venerable ideal of the citizen legislator who eventually leaves Washington, D.C. to return to the job that he or she left back home. History has been kind to those politicians who understood the virtues of turnover: Changing of the guard is supposed to happen before the scribes perched thickly along the Potomac start thinking of the royalties involved in books about people who overstayed their welcomes long enough to be dubbed “Lions of the Legislature.” When you sympathize with the libertarian critique of government to the extent that many Tea Partiers do, any politician is far more likely to be a lesion on the legislature than a lion of the legislature. Satirist P.J. O’Rourke explained that in Parliament of Whores two generations ago.
Michele Bachmann can be awkward and wrong, but in contests between “principle” and “pork,” she usually sides with principle. If Minnesota were dotted with half as many buildings named for her as West Virginia is with monuments to its late Senator Robert Byrd, Bachmann would have been a “failed” politician. She is, instead, a wife, a mother, a patriot, and a charismatic six-term Representative who willingly became a lightning rod for cultural criticism. Bachmann was labeled “crazy” for the same reason that Sarah Palin was dismissed as “Caribou Barbie.” In the brave new world of bipartisanship-at-any-cost (because tolerance!), any telegenic politician who questions the wisdom of “Centrifugal Bumble-Puppy” must be ridiculed. That’s why establishment Republicans say worse things about Bachmann than they could bring themselves to say about the Democrats with whom they pretend to contend, and why pundits treat so much of what Bachmann argued for with contempt. But Michele Bachmann is not crazy. The people who keep saying she is should go sell crazy someplace else. We’re all stocked up here -- and better for it.