POLITICS MAY 29, 2013
I used to think Michele Bachmann was hilarious, and so did you: I know because you clicked the blog posts that I wrote about her. It didn't matter what she did. She could make a funny face, pronounce a word incorrectly, pronounce a word correctly—the traffic would always come. She provided a constant fix of comical escapism that readers loved. Like Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann was always a sure success.
It became part of the daily routine: Post a 20-second clip of Michele Bachmann saying something silly, secure ten trillion page views, then work on a lengthier piece with actual value that five or six people would read. Many young political writers were able to have their jobs because traffic was heavily subsidized by Michele Bachmann saying something weird at a barbecue in Ames or whatever, everyday.
Many commentators will miss her for this reason. James Carville, for one, called her retirement announcement a "sad day." Who will deliver the funnies now? Texas Representative Louie Gohmert, Carville suggested. We've still got Gohmert.
Yeah, I don't know. It's difficult to call Bachmann's retirement a "sad" event right now, even with tongue in cheek. Face it: The show had been getting less and less worth watching in recent seasons. Almost entirely infuriating, really, if worth caring about at all. Let's not remember Michele Bachmann as the goof she got away with portraying for so many years, while she was really doing so much damage. Her "legacy," which, hope against hope, will eventually prove nil, was a very nasty, egomaniacal one, rife with smears and dark innuendo. The harm she caused to the political culture far outweighs the lift of a daily laugh. Peak Bachmann coincided with her political career's high-water mark—that period in the summer of 2011, when she briefly led the polls for the Republican presidential nomination, before collapsing. Inflated, perhaps, by her success, she began to flaunt her uglier beliefs. Bachmann's tumble from the top (which would have happened over one thing or another, eventually) accelerated into free fall during an early September 2011 debate, when she attacked fellow eventual loser Rick Perry over his 2007 gubernatorial mandate for all sixth-grade Texas girls be vaccinated against HPV. There were legitimate angles to work here—Perry's close ties with a lobbyist from Merck, the pharmaceutical company that made the HPV vaccine Gardasil. She made that point during the debate. Afterwards, however, she went on television to describe her encounter with a woman in the audience:
"She told me that her little daughter took that vaccine, that injection, and she suffered from mental retardation thereafter," Bachmann said. "There is no second chance for these little girls if there is any dangerous consequences to their bodies."
Repeating this without qualification wasn't just sloppy; it was pernicious and wholly inappropriate. Medical professionals are constantly working to swat back such rumors that embed in the mind quickly and are difficult to erase. And here was a presidential candidate, bizarrely trusted by a not insignificant number of parents, voicing it as truth on national television. That's not stupidity, or whimsy, or comical ineptness. It's viciousness. This was the year of the debt ceiling crisis, as well. Perhaps you remember it? It was that fantastic time when Congress considered arbitrarily destroying the credit of the United States and, along with it, the entire global economy, all because Republican politicians thought it would be too much of a hassle to explain what the debt ceiling was to their constituents. (Or, in a scary number of cases, to learn what it was themselves.) Michele Bachmann was a prominent player in that group. And even after the crisis had passed, at the non-fatal but still very avoidable cost of an S&P downgrade of U.S. debt, Bachmann was still out there, explaining to America that she had witnessed the crisis and proudly learned no lessons from it:
"I think we just heard from Standard & Poor's. When they dropped—when they dropped our credit rating, what they said is, we don't have an ability to repay our debt. That's what the final word was from them. I was proved right in my position: We should not have raised the debt ceiling. And instead, we should have cut government spending, which was not done. And then we needed to get our spending priorities in order."
And so she pledged repeatedly to never sign a debt ceiling hike if she were elected president. To call this position of hers, or her personally, stupid, would have let this off the hook too easily. What if she wasn't? What if she was just awful? Her most egregious move may have come last summer, when she smeared Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's longtime aide Huma Abedin as being in cahoots with the Muslim Brotherhood's perceived attempts to infiltrate "the highest reaches of the federal government." Her evidence was ... limited. She relied upon lunatic sources like Frank Gaffney, who likely checks for Muslims under his bed each night before going to sleep. Per Salon:
In case Abedin hasn’t already been through enough already, Bachmann is now questioning her loyalty to the U.S. by asserting that Abedin has three family members who are connected to the Muslim Brotherhood (Abedin is Muslim). She’s been targeted before by anti-Muslim activists, and Bachmann notes that Abedin’s position “affords her routine access to the Secretary and to policy-making.” Bachmann also claims the state has “taken actions recently that have been enormously favorable to the Muslim Brotherhood and its interests.”
At some point in the last year, the voters in Bachmann's district decided that maybe they would be better served by an alternate member of Congress. She won with only 50.4 percent of the vote in 2012, and now, facing a more difficult rematch for 2014, Bachmann is choosing to make the exit on her grounds. Nevertheless, she managed to win a whole four terms to the House of Representatives. What many laughed at for the early years were the same things that others took as reasons to support her candidacies.
Maybe it's because I no longer have the pleasure of scrambling to meet traffic quotas each day, but right now, I see no cheeky reasons to mourn Bachmann's loss from public service. She's not funny anymore. She's only terrible. Louie Gohmert isn't funny anymore. Chuck Grassley's Twitter isn't funny anymore. Sarah Palin isn't funny anymore. (Okay, she was sort of funny at CPAC.) If you never thought any of these sure-things were ever even slightly funny, consider our caps doffed. And join us in being content to see that for Bachmann, it's all over.
Jim Newell is a political writer in Washington. He has written for Wonkette, Gawker, The Guardian, The Baffler, and Salon.