The Sixth District congresswoman, famously cast as the 'queen of rage'on a Newsweek cover, certainly defied that description during a Republican National Convention encounter.
Much can be learned about people by glimpsing a sample of their actions. I did not support Michele Bachmann in her run for the presidency, and I know little about Minnesota politics. Nevertheless, I would like to share an experience I had in interacting with the Republican congresswoman.
I run a law practice in the Seattle area, though during the GOP convention I worked for a nationally syndicated talk-radio show. Apart from transporting the host to and from events, I assisted with the show's broadcast on radio row. (For the uninitiated, "radio row" is a collection of broadcast booths preassembled for use by programs from around the country.)
Radio row provides fertile ground for well-known politicians and commentators to mingle among broadcasters conducting interviews. Hosts are eager to engage these notable personalities, and guests are happy to discuss their views in (mostly) friendly confines.
Bachmann was slated to appear on a show near our booth. In passing, one of her staffers mentioned the need for transportation to a function just outside the convention perimeter at the Florida Aquarium. I volunteered.
Time was of the essence. The aquarium was only two miles away, but there was thick security everywhere. To complicate matters, Bachmann had to return to the Tampa Bay Times Forum a few short hours later to cast her vote with the Minnesota delegation. Missing that vote was not an option. With the timetable firmly in mind, we piled into my rental car and headed for the venue.
For a common American, this was a rare opportunity. I was eager to see what Bachmann was like, up close and unfiltered. My first clues into her character manifested in how she treated me personally. She was humble, and profusely thankful for the help. During the short trip, she inquired about my background, showing genuine interest in me as a person. She seemed to instinctively treat others as equals.
Along the way, we were stopped by a police officer guarding a blocked intersection. Discovering that Bachmann was in the car, he happily allowed us through on one condition: that he get a photo with the congresswoman. She was flattered. Right there, she exited the car and snapped a photo with the police officer.
Upon arriving, she entered the building and made the usual rounds. The event was running late. But we had a strict timetable: The congresswoman was to be at the Forum on time, no exceptions.
After some prodding from Bachmann's staff, the program got underway as I slipped out early to prepare the car for a quick getaway. Shortly thereafter, Bachmann left the building, stopping briefly to greet some well-wishers as she made her way to the waiting vehicle (full of anxious staff).
As we pulled away, Bachmann told me to stop the car. I was slightly annoyed, but what I hadn't seen -- and what Bachmann had -- was an approaching gentleman who was feverishly motioning for her attention.
Without hesitation, she opened the door and greeted him. Only then could I see what made this person different: He suffered from Down syndrome.
The congresswoman received him with warmth and a kind smile. He pushed forward his homemade business card, and Rep. Bachmann accepted it graciously.
She was neither annoyed nor angry. She afforded him courtesy and respect. She treated him like he mattered. Perhaps to her staff, this was the "norm," but to me, it was a first.
We returned to the Forum in time for her vote with the Minnesota delegation. I dropped off an energized congresswoman and relieved staff, and kept a distinct opinion of a national figure that many have heard of but few truly know.
Leadership is more than the sum total of one's political platform. I suspect that vital governing transpires in gray areas, outside the discrete political compartments of "pro" this or "anti" that. In these moments, the right decision likely hinges on a leader's character.
Republicans don't have a monopoly on kindness or character. Certainly, other members of Congress would have stopped the car to greet the gentleman with Down syndrome. However, I witnessed Rep. Bachmann firsthand. I can tell the voters in Minnesota what I saw: That in an unscripted moment, one of their representatives brought honor to their state.
We can have sincere, heartfelt debates about policy. Yet, as we differ on issues, we can simultaneously agree that Bachmann is not the rage-filled caricature she is often portrayed as being.
She instinctively showed kindness to someone who many of us would have ignored. In an America suffering from increased dissolution with our politics, where we seem eager to slam doors on each other, it was nice to see a politician open a door when it mattered most.
Robert P. Dickson (www.dicksonlegal.com/attorneys.html) is a partner at the Dickson Law Group, a commercial litigation and real-estate law firm with offices in Seattle and Tacoma. He also teaches real-estate litigation at the Seattle University School of Law.