A question about Bachmann

During an interview of Michelle Bachmann last weekend on CBS, Bob Schieffer played a clip of Bachmann in 2008 saying that she “absolutely” had concerns that Obama, on the basis of his associations with Jeremiah Wright and William Ayers, had “anti-American” views. He asked if she still believed that. She replied, “I don’t question his patriotism.” But if Bachmann thinks that Obama has anti-American views, then of course she questions his patriotism. She didn’t seem to realize that she was flat-out contradicting her own past statement which had just been played on a video screen before her. Obviously if she was going to say that she didn’t question Obama’s patriotism, then she first had to retract or distance herself from her 2008 statement about his anti-Americanism. But she didn’t retract it. Instead, she went, without segue and without any attempt to reconcile the two statements, from saying that she absolutely has concerns about Obama’s anti-American views to saying that she doesn’t question his patriotism.

Then, still in the midst of this exchange, she said that “this is not about us, it’s about the American people.” But what did that empty cliché remotely have to do with the issue being discussed?

And there was yet a third disconcerting disconnect in the exchange with Schieffer. Bachmann said that the problem with Obama is that he has “failed” to handle the economy. Is that the worst she can say about Obama, that he lacks competence? Hasn’t she herself said many times that Obama is seeking to expand the power of the state? My guess is that her thinking is as follows: the economic news is bad now, and this is a major vulnerability for Obama, and she naturally wants to exploit it by referring to Obama’s “failures,” which in addition to being the obvious thing to say at the moment is also so much less controversial and “extreme” than calling him a leftist. But it makes her seem to be lacking in principles and consistency, since, obviously, the main problem—according to Bachmann herself in her own many past remarks—is not that Obama lacks competence, but that he is a leftist.

Bachmann’s repeatedly demonstrated inability to navigate from an earlier position of hers about Obama to a new position, her robotic way of answering questions, brought to the fore the first question I had had about her candidacy: does she have the intelligence to be president?

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Jim C. writes:

I was the first person to call Bachmann stupid, so I feel vindicated. She’s a lightweight, and she should not be asked to be on the ticket by the eventual winner, which will be either Rick Perry or Master Hair Comb.

Alissa writes:

Neither Romney nor Bachmann should be President. Both are contradictory, Romney a Mormon and Bachmann a woman.

LA replies:

That’s funny. But how are Mormons inherently contradictory?

Alissa replies:

Mormons have this twisted manner where they completely misinterpret the original meanings of words such as the Trinity and think that say it’s actually three gods instead of one God. Some of them believe that Christ was created (He’s a creation) or that Christ is a brother of Satan. I mean how can a person believe that Christ is good if He is a brother of evil?

Dan R. writes:

I saw the interview and at first thought “there goes that liberal Schieffer again,” but as it progressed it became apparent that the questions were fair and his repeated criticisms of her for “not answering my question” were accurate. The Reverend Wright exchange was painful to watch. Not only did her answers raise questions about her intelligence—they thoroughly undermined her boast of a “titanium spine.” Too many “conservatives” appear to have a big stake in a game of upsmanship with liberals, wherein they feel compelled to support a purportedly conservative woman or black or other minority to counter the endless charges of racism and sexism.

Jake F. writes:

I didn’t see the interview, but it sounds like Bachmann is handling herself correctly. I’ve gone through media training, and your job in an interview is not to answer questions, but to ensure that your message makes it through with as little corruption as possible. You’re looking for truth and clarity, but interviews are about marketing. I’m not saying that’s good, but it’s a fact of life.

With respect to your first concern:

1. She knows that Obama has anti-American views, but she also knows that his supporters and sympathizers think they are upholding the highest principles of America (equality, caring for the poor, working together, whatever). In that sense, Obama and his followers may in fact be patriotic (they love what they think their country is) while still being anti-American (they hate what their country actually is).

2. She was in a tough spot in the interview. Consider the likely follow-on questions if she had said that she still had concerns about him. “You believe the President of the United States is anti-American?” “Do you believe that he’s trying to destroy the U.S. economy?” Etc. It would be almost impossible to work your way out of that in a graceful way, and she’d probably be cast as a conspiracy-theorist nutjob.

3. She and her staff had anticipated this question and the correct response to it. By slightly reframing the issue, she was able to deftly turn something that could be used against her into something relatively harmless. Meanwhile, she didn’t have to repudiate her 2008 words, so those who agree with them can still admire her for them.

Your second concern seems to validate my thoughts on the first. She wants to avoid talking about Obama as the leftist, anti-American Obama, and instead talk about what the American people want and need. There are plenty of people running who are not Obama, and that doesn’t differentiate her from them. (Differentiation is critical in marketing.) right now she needs to focus on her positive vision for the future.

“Is that the worst she can say about Obama, that he lacks competence? Hasn’t she herself said many times that Obama is seeking to expand the power of the state?”

I would guess that she was adapting to her likely audience for that program. She wants to seem less scary to “independents,” who are, for the most part, left-liberals or people who waffle between left-liberalism and right-liberalism.

Calling Obama a leftist sounds extreme to that audience. After all, their principles aren’t that different from his; he’s just more consistent and thus more destructive. That destructiveness makes it easy for Michele to attack him for “incompetence,” without making it look like she’s the scary woman who is going to remake the vision for America.

So it seems to me, anyway. If I’m right, then she’s handling things just fine.

LA replies:

I only have time for a quick reply at the moment. If Bachmann is handling things just fine, then how is that she is making me, who have been disposed to support her, believe that she lacks convictions and intelligence?

Leonard D. writes:

Let me second Jake F. on this. No traditional conservative will be elected President, at least not as a traditional conservative. I think Bachmann is smart enough to know that. Therefore she trims with half-truths, lies of omission, and non-responses—just as other politicians do. Is this desirable? No, but democracy is what we have. Democratic politics is about selling yourself, in both senses of the word. You’ll find no clean politician. (Even Ron Paul trims, and he’s not electable.) It’s just a matter of determining how dirty a person you are willing to vote for.

Paul Nachman writes:

Jake F’s points about Bachmann are interesting. He may well be right. Unless an interview is being broadcast live, the interviewee is at the mercy of the interviewer and interviewer’s crew, who often have an agenda and are acting in nothing like good faith.

Here’s Sowell on this point from his wonderful essay “Some Thoughts About Writing”:

Not only can the host lift what you said out of context; he can also splice in what your enemies have said about you, without your having an opportunity to reply. Television’s “Sixty Minutes” is a master of this technique, among others. Once Mike Wallace asked me to be a guest on the show, pointing out what a wonderful opportunity it would be for me to get my message out to a huge audience. I replied that I would be delighted to go one-on-one with him anytime, provided that everything we said was broadcast just as we said it. He looked so pained at my distrust that I almost believed him.

LA replies:

But it was a live interview on Face the Nation or some such show, wasn’t it? Or in any case it was a lengthy interview taped in advance, not a Sixty Minutes type thing where they just take snippets and place them in their own context.

(By the way, and I’ve said this before, I have not watched Sixty Minutes since around 1997 when I saw how they mistreated Christopher Ruddy in their interview of him about his book on Vincent Foster. Unfortunately, in later years Ruddy, who had spent the ’90s denouncing Clinton as a criminal and treasonous president, made up with Clinton, calling Clinton “a good president in a lot of ways” (also see his vapid non-explanation of his praise of Clinton), so I ceased having any idea of where he was coming from.)

Tom L. writes:

When you look at this side by side picture of Bachmann and Palin at CNN, the first thing that hits you is how vibrant Bachmann appears and how haggard Palin shows up. Bachmann looks a lot more presidential (if that can be said of a woman) than Palin. [LA replies: Yes. Bachmann looks together, Palin looks frenzied. If the U.S. were to have a woman president, Bachmann definitely looks the part.]

Ironically, though it looks as though Bachmann will surpass Palin, it may have been Palin who absorbed all of the punishment the left expended on a “woman conservative,” thus leaving the field wider and much more open for Bachmann to go through to the presidency. Palin was the fullback who pounded into the line and Bachmann was the halfback who slipped through once the fullback wore out the defensive line.

From that photo Bachmann now has that face that children would look at in awe should she become the president and visit a school. Palin doesn’t have that aura right now.

If I were Palin, I would stop any idea of running for the presidency and swing my support for Bachmann. Palin supporting a Romney would look like sour grapes on Palin’s part against Bachmann for having displaced her. Palin did just that in supporting actively a bevy of female congressional, senatorial and gubernatorial candidates in the last election.

Romney would make a great Vice-President …

LA replies:

As I may have said before, I doubt the prospects of a Romney-Bachmann ticket, or, as you speak of,a Bachmann-Romney ticket, for this reason: they are both very good looking, and together they would look like a couple.

James N. writes:

I have a long commute, so I use podcasts to pass the time. I have an affinity in the morning for right-wing talk radio, and Michele Bachmann has been a frequent guest, during the 2008 and 2010 election cycles, on programs I listen to.

I agree that she sounds stupid. I have always had the impression that she was reading from a script of Tea Party talking points. One of her “big ideas” in 2010 was holding classes on the Constitution for incoming House members, because perhaps they just didn’t KNOW about the enumerated powers, etc. etc.

Now, she was a successful attorney and obviously has a very, very big heart to do the corporal works of mercy with the foster children. Perhaps she IS smart.

But she does not appear to be gifted in the political arts. Not to mention, of course, the dismal record of House members making the jump to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

I don’t think she’s the one.

Jake F. writes:

Jim C. writes: “I was the first person to call Bachmann stupid, so I feel vindicated. She’s a lightweight”

It’s foolish to call your enemies stupid, and even more stupid to call your potential allies stupid. Bachmann has been elected to public office, thereby showing she can get people to vote for her. That isn’t a sign of stupidity. Quite the opposite.

You wrote:

“If Bachmann is handling things just fine, then how is that she is making me, who have been disposed to support her, believe that she lacks convictions and intelligence?”

Mr. Auster, you’re not her primary demographic target. If she alienates you a little, but you’re willing to hold your nose and vote for her, then she loses little by saying what she has said. Meanwhile, if she can flip even a few percentage points of the independents in her direction, she has won substantial support.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at June 30, 2011 08:10 AM | Send

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