Column: Don't underestimate this Minnesota firebrandKANSAS CITY, Mo. — I will not poke fun at Michele Bachmann. I will not poke fun at Michele Bachmann. I will not poke fun at Michele Bachmann.
By: Mary Sanchez, Tribune Media Services, Worthington Daily Globe
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — I will not poke fun at Michele Bachmann.
I will not poke fun at Michele Bachmann.
I will not poke fun at Michele Bachmann.
Always knew those elementary school chalkboard rituals would come in handy someday, a reminder not to act recklessly, to remain on task. It’s just that the Republican congresswoman from Minnesota makes it so hard.
Here she was last week (as quoted by Politico), speaking to a conservative audience in Iowa about a shadowy conspiracy afoot in the state: “That’s what you had here in Iowa: black-robed masters. ... They are not our masters. They are not our morality. They are not put there to make the decisions.”
She was referring to the Iowa Supreme Court, which was in fact put in place to make decisions — and two years ago it made one many conservatives didn’t like, invalidating a ban on gay marriage in the state.
Bachmann’s frequent appearances in Iowa of late are no mere coincidence. The state’s caucuses are the opening round of the presidential primaries, and Bachmann has been coyly suggesting she might just throw her hat in the ring.
She’s not a viable candidate for 2012, and I suspect she knows it. However, her star is on the rise as a leading voice of the tea party, adding to her reputation as an outspoken evangelical conservative. And she’s a savvy and charismatic politician. If she joins the Republican presidential primary race, and is not neutralized by the party establishment, she may well push the GOP message to the right, possibly at its peril.
Republicans would certainly profit from her ability to energize evangelical Christians, and her impassioned calls for slashing the federal government to shreds may endear her to many libertarians. But then there are the all-important swing voters. How would they respond, say, to Bachmann’s call to shut down the U.S. Department of Education (which, to her, is just one on a laundry list of federal agencies the nation “could do without”)?
“Any place where we could abolish we should go ahead and cut back and abolish,” she said in Iowa last week. “The private sector can handle that on their own.”
Seriously? Does she really believe that charter schools and private schools and home-schooling mothers will suddenly fill the massive national void of no federally guided public education in America? All those soccer moms in conservative suburbs across the nation might beg to differ.
Of late, the conservative Young Turks in the Republican Party have cut a dashing figure with their take-no-prisoners rhetoric and extreme policy measures. They have played the so-called mandate of 2010 to the hilt, and here and there voters are beginning to show signs of buyer’s remorse (how’s Gov. Walker working out for you, Wisconsin?).
The GOP candidate with a chance of defeating Barack Obama in 2012 will have to motivate not just the choir that adores tough-talking conservatives. They’ll also need to win over people not hard-wired to vote for them. Republican insiders know they can’t let Bachmann’s popularity with what amounts to a fringe group of loyal voters shift the party too far right. And yet they can’t risk alienating those voters either. It will be a balancing act.
Bachmann’s recent appearances in Iowa showcased the possible pitfalls. She preached about criminalizing same-sex marriage and dumping the entire tax code, and declared that Congress should decide what topics are OK for federal courts to rule on. All of which suggest she is neither a perceptive judge of political trends nor a deep thinker. But she is a savvy messenger. Her talents in that regard should scare the daylights out of anyone who believes in quality public education for all, equal rights for gay and lesbian people, and more, not fewer, options for low-income reproductive healthcare.
In fact, candidates from either party would do well to study Bachmann’s gifts at constituency building and her accessible, consistent rhetoric. She even tops Sarah Palin in that regard. True, her views are out of whack with the vast majority of the nation — and her opponents would be wise to begin pointing that out — but she’s good at marketing a message and packaging a brand: that of the fiery challenger, proud, plain-speaking and energizing. That’s a type of intelligence not to look down on, and I can’t think of a single prominent Democrat who possesses it.
As with her rootin’-tootin’ forerunner Palin, you can marvel at what comes out of her mouth and gawp at her drive to overreach, but you’d be unwise to dismiss her.
Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star. Readers may write to her at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108-1413, or via e-mail at email@example.com.