Maybe we won't have the Bachmann to kick around anymore, but is there any known cure for what E. J. Dionne Jr. calls "Bachmannism"?
"Bachmannism is far from finished. The Minnesota right-winger . . . perfected a tactic well-suited to the current media environment: continually toss out outlandish, baseless charges, and, eventually, some of them will enter the mainstream media . . . .
"You don’t have to bat 1.000 or even .350 in this game. Get just a handful of your accusations and strange takes on reality into the political bloodstream and you've won.
"Bachmann's method is now common currency."
-- E. J. Dionne Jr., in his WaPo column
"GOP needs more Doles and fewer Bachmanns"
"GOP needs more Doles and fewer Bachmanns"
I mentioned the other day that I thought something needed to be said about the Bachmann's announcement that we won't have it to kick around anymore. My first thought was that there are no winners here -- that the Bachmann having done so much to pollute the national political discourse, there is no remedy for or rescue from the damage it has done. You can't, to put it another way, merely shovel the doody into the cesspool.
Of course I was being naive. Of course there are winners: Republicans who no longer have to sweat out whether they need to inject an occasional word of demurral in response to the constant flow of fecal matter she dumped into the political ecosphere. Not that any of them are bothered by the "substance" of what she's had to say, which has consistently been innocent of even the slightest grain of truth or connection to reality, any more than any of them had any substantive problem with the psychotic blithering that came out of the mouths of GOP Senate candidates like the unspeakable Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock.
No, it's just that at a certain point the psychosis and delusion become so conspicuous as to be potentially embarrassing to such specimens' fellow party members. As Howie and I pointed out repeatedly, it's hard to find any position articulated by the likes of Akin and Mourdock that isn't also a core belief of a respected Republican like rising star Paul Ryan. Specimens like Ryan are just more skilled at soft-pedaling their delusions when speaking to nondelusional audiences.
Finally I had to go along with much of what Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank had to say about who won in his column on the subject. After noting that the Bachmann's announcement came 72 hours after Bob Dole's much-publicized interview with Fox Noisemaker Chris Wallace which included his proposal that Republicans put up a "closed for repairs" sign, he noted an "error" in her announcement, when she announced that "the mainstream liberal media" would "put a detrimental spin on my decision."
"Detrimental?" Dana wrote. "Um, no. It's hard to see the mothballing of Bachmann as anything but unalloyed good news, for the party and the country."
Certainly, the media and late-night TV hosts will greatly miss the woman who declared that the American Revolution began in Concord, N.H., instead of Concord, Mass.; that the HPV vaccine causes mental retardation; that certain members of Congress are "anti-America"; that John Wayne came from her birthplace of Waterloo, Iowa (she confused him with serial killer John Wayne Gacy); that God created an earthquake and a hurricane to protest federal spending; that the U.S. government is plotting death panels, re-education camps and an IRS database of Americans' medical records; and that the feds could use census data to put people in internment camps.Dana also noted:
Whether she was calling President Obama a socialist, misplacing John Quincy Adams in history as a "Founding Father," or wishing Elvis Presley a "happy birthday" on the anniversary of his death, Bachmann frequently furnished evidence for her claim that God had called her to run for president -- if only to provide comic relief.
But for all her entertainment value, Bachmann has done more than any other elected official to inject false information into the national debate, contributing to a culture in which many conservatives detach themselves from reality. A study by the nonpartisan Center for Media and Public Affairs this week based on data from PolitiFact.com found that Republicans' claims in recent months are three times more likely to be false than those of Democrats. The Post's fact checker, Glenn Kessler, discovered that Bachmann told a higher percentage of whoppers than any other lawmaker.
Bachmann also has been one of the most prominent practitioners of the obstinacy Dole was talking about in his interview with Chris Wallace. "It seems to be almost unreal that we can't get together on a budget or legislation," the elder statesman said. Arguing that even Ronald Reagan would be unwelcome in today's GOP, Dole warned that "the country is going to suffer" from the party's refusal to compromise.The one point in Dana's column I'm not so sure about is that "voters appear to be tiring of this approach." I think his Post colleague E. J. Dionne Jr. got it right when he wrote:
On the surface, Republicans will be happy that they won't have to answer for her exquisitely inflammatory statements anymore. Democrats will be disappointed to lose a face that launched thousands of contributions their way. You might say her departure is a small repair for the GOP's image.I think this is exactly right. The curse of the Bachmann isn't her own miserable existence, but the entrenched scourge of "Bachmannism," as E.J. puts it.
In fact, Bachmannism is far from finished. The Minnesota right-winger deserves to be memorialized with an "ism" because she perfected a tactic well-suited to the current media environment: continually toss out outlandish, baseless charges, and, eventually, some of them will enter the mainstream media -- if, at first, only in the form of "coverage" of what conservative radio shows, Web sites or Fox News are talking about.
You don’t have to bat 1.000 or even .350 in this game. Get just a handful of your accusations and strange takes on reality into the political bloodstream and you've won.
Bachmann's method is now common currency. And here’s the beautiful thing: Even as the regular media does some of your work for you, you lambaste the very same media. This only creates more pressure on them to cover you.
The Bachmann didn't, of course, invent the concept of political discourse that's all lies, all the time. The GOP had that strategy hammered in place well before the 2000 political season, which Young Johnny McCranky and the country's roster of GOP candidates got through without uttering a word of truth. And for decades now the GOP lie machine has been shadowed if not actually inspired by that bedrock of media lies, Fox Noise.
But the Bachmann made a steady diet of lies of the most outrageous and preposterous sort the basic medium of discourse for the "mainstream" of Republicanism, and perhaps for the media generally. "My nomination for the ultimate in Bachmannism," E. J. Dionne Jr. wrote, "was her slander against the program encouraging citizens to serve the nation and each other."
Opposing a bill to expand AmeriCorps, she warned that "there are provisions for what I would call re-education camps for young people, where young people have to go and get trained in a philosophy that the government puts forward and then they have to go to work in some of these politically correct forums." Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge is just around the corner.Of course this was all made up in the demented mind of the Bachmann, with perhaps some reference to a kind of program that people of her political persuasion may dream of putting into effect against their enemies.
I have another nomination, which I more or less stumbled across. In fact, I almost read right through it.
My friend Paul put together and circulated a compendium of bizarreries from the Bachmann. It's the one that eventually led to its confusion of John Quincy Adams with his father, John Adams. "We also know," quoth the B, "that the very founders that wrote those documents worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States." This is clearly some sort of grudging acknowledgment of the reality that the U.S. Constitution institutionalized slavery. No doubt people like the Bachmann, whose now sole criterion for "reality" is "does this make me feel better?," at the same time feel entitled to any ameliorative fake-reality they can concoct.
I mean, did you hear that? The "founders . . . worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States." What??? Where would one begin to sort out the layers of lies and delusions so casually embedded therein.
"Bachmann's retirement," wrote E. J. Dionne Jr., "should foster some soul-searching about the nature of our political discourse and how easy it is for falsehood and innuendo to get treated as just one more element in the conversation -- no more or less legitimate than any other."
Yes, it should, E.J., but I'm not holding my breath.