COMMENTARY | Michele Bachmann is one of those candidates that politicians dream about facing in an election. She has a well-documented history of sticking both feet into her mouth at the same time. As an outspoken Republican and prominent tea partier, the media are paying more attention to what she's saying, which amplifies the mistakes. But there is no denying Bachmann has committed many memorable gaffes.
She's claimed the Obama administration only approved one oil drilling permit since taking office, when it has actually approved hundreds. She mistakenly referred to New Hampshire, not Massachusetts, as the state where the "shot heard round the world" at Lexington and Concord took place. She praised our Founding Fathers for "working tirelessly" against slavery, when they actually enshrined it in the Constitution. And then she explained that mistake by claiming abolitionist John Quincy Adams was a Founding Father, even though he was only 9 when the Revolution began.
Since she declared her candidacy for the GOP presidential nomination, the mistakes show no signs of stopping. On her very first day in the race she referred to Waterloo, Iowa, as the birthplace of actor , when it's actually a former home of serial killer John Wayne Gacy. She mixed up Elvis' birthday with the anniversary of his death (which is sad for a candidate that claims to be a fan, blaring his music everywhere she goes), and said Americans were worried about the "rise of the Soviet Union," which hasn't existed for 20 years. If you're a Democrat or any kind of left-leaning political junkie, you're enjoying watching her flub easy stuff.
This only scratches the surface. Dig a little and you'll find a lot more. All of these mishaps are amusing, in that "She said what?" kinda way. In her own defense, Bachmann said "When you speak six times a day, slip-ups can occur." She blames the media for amplifying every little misstep. "The main thing people focus on in every single venue that I've been to is the economy and job creation," she said.
Pay attention, liberal America. She's got a point. Many of her mistakes are really minor errors. The Elvis slip-up is completely meaningless. She probably meant "Russia" not "Soviet Union." The Founding Father slavery thing doesn't really add up to much, and many of them genuinely were against slavery, so she's not completely wrong. So while Democrats may be salivating at the thought of President running against a candidate fond of factual errors, they should be paying more attention to the substance of what she's saying, and the emotions she is tapping into.
Americans are justifiably angry. The bad economy has hurt everyone, and Washington hasn't done much to alleviate the suffering. Bachmann is tapping into that dissatisfaction by appealing to our inner patriots. Her rhetoric is designed to tap the pride many Americans feel simply by virtue of their birth. Our country was great once, she reminds us. And under President Bachmann, we will be again!
One Republican nominee that adopted this strategy did pretty well. He was also running during a time of economic hardship. Taxes and interest rates were high. So was spending and debt. Unemployment was on the rise. The country was embarrassed by high-profile mistakes and terrorists on the world stage. Like Bachmann, he also emphasized a platform of lower taxes, smaller government and getting people back to work. And he frequently asked if anyone could look at the record of the then-current executive and think four more years of it would be good for the country.
That candidate was Ronald Reagan. "Can anyone compare the state of our economy when the Carter Administration took office," he asked in his 1980 GOP nomination acceptance speech, "with where we are today and say, 'Keep up the good work?' Can anyone look at our reduced standing in the world today and say, 'Let's have four more years of this?'" The answer was a resounding "no." And Jimmy Carter became a one-term president.
The Democrats can smile and laugh at every mistake Bachmann makes. They can pat themselves on the back and think she doesn't have a chance, that all of these mistakes will collectively doom her candidacy. And maybe they will. But anyone that thinks Bachmann is stupid isn't paying attention. She knows what she's doing, gaffes and misstatements notwithstanding. Bachmann has clearly learned from recent history and aims to repeat it. And if the Obama campaign doesn't take her seriously, they may very well share Carter's fate.