Tevlin: Could this be Bachmann's McCarthy moment?

  • Article by: JON TEVLIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 21, 2012 - 6:33 PM

I hate to say I told you so.

I told you so.

Here is what I wrote in a column in December about Michele Bachmann:

"You have to give the Republicans credit for their sense of humor in naming her to the Intelligence Committee, but given Bachmann's difficulty with facts, it's hard to believe they will be handing over top secret information to her. Look for Bachmann to use her position to talk about wild government takeover theories and dubious foreign threats, which she will then refuse to discuss further because they are secret."

That's pretty much what Bachmann has done in her most recent allegations that the "halls of Washington" are crawling with Islamic infiltrators. In her response to Rep. Keith Ellison's concerns about her claims, Bachmann indeed hinted that she might have some secret info, but "nor am I able to get into the private discussions and documentation received by the various House committees ..."

I point out my previous column not to show how prescient I am, but how predictable Bachmann has become in her studied formula to make news: Use half-truths and loose associations to make wild accusations; repeat on friendly, unquestioning media outlets until it reaches mainstream; then run like hell from tough questions and claim everything is "out of context."

For a while, such behavior was comical. But now even Speaker of the House John Boehner, from her own party, has called Bachmann's behavior "pretty dangerous" -- following military hero John McCain's rare verbal pummeling of her on the Senate floor. It is no longer amusing.

Maybe it is something else: Michele Bachmann's Joe McCarthy moment?

Sen. McCarthy used similar tactics to scare the public into believing that Communists were everywhere, including the government. Like Bachmann, he made reckless claims to instigate futile investigations into everything from the Voice of America to the U.S. Army and State Department.

In 1950, McCarthy said in an infamous speech in Wheeling, W.Va, that the State Department was "infested with Communists."

Here's what Bachmann said on a radio show:

"It appears there has been deep penetration in the halls of the United States government by the Muslim Brotherhood. ... There are individuals who are associated with the Muslim Brotherhood who have very sensitive positions in our Department of Justice, our Department of Homeland Security, potentially even in the National Intelligence Agency, and I am calling on these agencies, through the Inspector General, to see who these people are and what access they have to sensitive information."

Been down this road before

Same horror story, different bogeyman.

It was Bachmann's insinuation that Hillary Clinton's aide, Huma Abedin, might be tied to the Brotherhood that got McCain riled enough to call her accusations "sinister."

State Department spokesman Philippe Reines called the accusations "nothing but vicious and disgusting lies." Now Boehner has called them "dangerous," and Sens. Marco Rubio and Scott Brown, also Republicans, have scolded her for it.

Bachmann's response? Go after Ellison's patriotism.

McCain's terrific speech recalled Republican Sen. Margaret Chase Smith's "Declaration of Conscience," in calling out McCarthy's smear tactics. Others followed. Finally, journalist Edward R. Murrow did hard-hitting pieces that further discredited McCarthy.

"His primary achievement has been in confusing the public mind, as between the internal and the external threats of Communism," Murrow said. "We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another."

McCarthy was censured by his fellow senators and his popularity dropped significantly. I'm not sure we will be so lucky with Bachmann.

Former Republican Sen. Dave Durenberger served as chair of the Select Committee on Intelligence. I asked him if he thought Bachmann's reckless rhetoric should keep her off the House committee.

He wrote back: "The GOP House leadership refused her demand to be part of their leadership team. How can they trust her with an Intelligence oversight role in the nation's most critical security decisions?"

I asked Durenberger if Bachmann's rhetoric could actually be detrimental to the country's security?

"Indirectly, because it can undermine the oversight process," he said. "McCain's point is it stokes fundamentalist Islamic terror and anti-America campaigns in Islamic countries, and that makes our national security job harder."

jtevlin@startribune.com • 612-673-1702

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