An Immelmann is a precise aerobatic maneuver in which an airplane performs a half-roll to reverse its direction. A Bachmann is sloppier but more spectacular: To perform a Bachmann, a candidate for Congress puts her foot in her mouth, talks stupidly for seven minutes and watches her reelection campaign burst into flames.
Michele Bachmann, Minnesota's Sixth District member of Congress and former bush-hiding peeker on gay rights rallies, exploded on the cable TV show "Hardball" Friday, questioning Barack Obama's patriotism and suggesting that all 535 members of Congress be investigated to determine which ones are "anti-American." Immediately, money began flowing to the campaign of her main opponent on Nov. 4, Elwyn Tinklenberg, who has both DFL and Independence Party endorsement, as well as at least $800,000 in campaign contributions he didn't have before Bachmann pulled her early Halloween "Fright Night" on MSNBC. But she did more than get Tinklenberg revved.
She put herself in the sights of an Immelman again.
Aubrey Immelman, 52, is a psychology professor at St. John's University in Collegeville, Minn., who ran against Bachmann in the Republican primary. He finished second, with just 14 percent of the vote, but he got his campaign off the ground again Saturday by announcing he will run as a write-in candidate on Nov. 4 in the hope of knocking Bachmann out.
A South African immigrant to the United States who chose Minnesota for the great walleye fishing and the great colleges, Immelman has taught at St. John's since 1991. He calls himself a moderate Republican and says he supported Bob Dole in 1996 and George W. Bush in 2000, but opposes the disastrous turn in U.S. foreign policy that followed the Iraq war.
"I gave up everything to come here, which is why I feel so strongly about the direction my country has been taking," he said Monday. "I'm a proud, patriotic American. And I cannot tolerate this festering brand of neo-McCarthyism Michele Bachmann is pushing."
In election years, Immelman and his students study the leading political candidates and draw up political personality profiles. This year's profiles make sense to anyone who has been following the campaign: John McCain is a dominant individual and strong leader whose tendencies toward impulsive decisionmaking may be tempered somewhat by his age and experience ("I'm one person who thinks McCain's age is an advantage," Immelman says); while Barack Obama is ambitious with a strong sense of self-confidence, is cool and unflappable, but has a habit of being too accommodating with opponents. Translated into fighter-pilot terminology that would be familiar to the inventor of the Immelmann, WWI German ace Max Immelmann (no known relative), the professor says it comes out this way:
"McCain has a light trigger finger, while Obama might hesitate a second."
Prof. Immelman didn't hesitate at all when he saw Republican Bachmann's meltdown on Friday: He got his campaign back off the ground in the hopes of helping end Bachmann's career in Congress, which is still in its first term, before she takes American politics back to the era of 1950s Red-baiter Joe McCarthy, or even farther back. To the Stone Age.
As a professor who teaches evolutionary psychology, Immelman said Republican campaign tactics this fall have played on primal fears and xenophobic traits that developed in humans during the Stone Age. Both Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann have tried to make voters fear Obama as an outsider, an other, not one of us. In the Stone Age, the only answer for that kind of thing was a club. Now, perhaps, it's a contribution to the opponent.
"We have a Stone Age brain," Immelman says. "When you say the kind of things Michele Bachmann has been saying, you activate the Stone Age brain, and people react in fear. You don't have to be 'bombed back into the Stone Age.' You can be scared back into the Stone Age, too."
Immelman, who has four children, is related distantly to Trevor Immelman, the South African golfer who won the 2008 Masters Tournament last spring. But when it comes to his write-in effort against Bachmann, he has more in common with the derring-do of Max Immelmann (sometimes spelled with a single 'n') who was called the Blue Max in World War I. For he has embarked on a one-way mission: He doesn't want Democrats or Independents to vote for him. He just wants to take enough votes from Bachmann to bring her down.
"Someone has to stand up and do something about her," he said Monday. "I'm asking Democrats not to vote for me, because I just want this to be a referendum on Michele Bachmann and the direction the Republican Party has taken in this country. She is appealing to the worst human attributes, when what we really need is tolerance. I want to bring back the way we were on Sept 12 -- the day after 9-11 -- when we were all together as Americans. I want to help bring forth a new Republican Party from the ashes that will be left on Nov. 4."
Bachmann may still win this dogfight. But her mouth has made it harder for her, and sanity just might be making a late comeback in the Sixth District.
Tinklenberg is flying high, Immelman has taken off on his write-in mission and even retired general and GOP icon Colin Powell, who endorsed Obama over the weekend, took a moment to fire a salvo at Bachmann's remarks: "We have got to stop this kind of nonsense."
Poor Bachmann says she was misinterpreted on "Hardball." But the record, and the video, show that she accused Barack Obama of harboring "anti-American" views and suggested that all those anti-Americans in Congress be ferreted out. Perhaps with the help of waterboarding, electric wires and thumbscrews.
Bachmann is choking on her own hateful words. And there is only one maneuver that can help with that problem:
Not an Immelmann.