On Wednesday morning, Minnesota Congresswoman and House Tea Party chair Michele Bachmann announced she would not be seeking re-election in 2014. Two days later, her would-be Democratic opponent, businessman Jim Graves, announced he would be stepping down as well.
“There’s no way anyone could run and win who would be worse than Michele Bachmann,” he said happily.
Bachmann was one of those figures who omnipresence in the headlines seemed to be inversely correlated with how much she actually accomplished. Her presidential campaign was a flop. Her gratuitous 2011 Tea Party rebuttal to President Obama’s State of the Union was a flop. Her attempt to position herself as a major player in the legislative process — an ideologically impeachable center of authority to rival Speaker John Boehner and the rest of the squish crowd — was a flop. As one wag put it, Bachmann’s single, indisputable achievement during her seven years on the national scene was limited to her 2011 victory in the Iowa straw poll, which forced fellow Minnesotan Tim Pawlenty out of the 2012 GOP primary and allowed Governor Romney to consolidate the moderate conservative vote. Or something.
Bachmann is often compared to Sarah Palin for lazy and sexist reasons, but in my estimation the two women actually embody vastly different political styles. Palin, for all her obvious faults, was a genuine populist with some talents for charm and empathy. Her dopey bluntness and clumsy language had a purpose — she was just a simple small town mom with an instinctive sense of right and wrong, gosh-darn-it. She didn’t read the newspapers or have an Ivy League diploma or pal around in Europe or any of it, but that was the point. Washington was run by pointy-headed elites who did, and, well, look where they took the country.
Bachmann, by contrast, tried to be a pointy-headed elite for her own side. Her speeches and rhetoric were closer in style to Glenn Beck (one of her biggest fans), in the sense they used a thin veneer of pseudo-intellectual conservative philosophy to weave hysterically overreactive conspiracy theories with very little provocation. She understood the basic rightist principle that unchecked government power is the root of tyranny — which is true — but applied the thesis so universally and without nuance she became a clown.
And a liar. According to the Washington Post‘s cute metric of measuring such things, “no other lawmaker earned as high a percentage of Four-Pinocchio ratings as Bachmann,” thanks to her “consistent and unapologetic” bending of reality in the service of ideology.
The President wanted more young people to partake in community service, Bachmann said that he was trying to create “re-education camps.” The United States voted in favor of a UN resolution on combating religious intolerance, Bachmann said Hillary Clinton was imposing a one-world tyranny to prevent criticism of Islam. Obamacare sought to cover birth control, Bachmann said we were headed for a one-child policy.
There was very little about Bachmann that was compelling or attractive. She was cold, angry, paranoid, and fundamentalist, and her political career sought to make those emotions the defining disposition of American political discourse.
Her unpopularity, powerlessness, and now departure hopefully signals a country moving in the opposite direction.