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Continued: Michele Bachmann: Watching her step

  • Article by: KIM ODE , Star Tribune
  • Last update: July 22, 2007 - 1:03 PM

It was late October, when that first cold feels colder, especially in the dark. As they walked together, comically distant in their bulky down jackets, "he took my hand, and he put my hand in his pocket, and I don't remember anything else," she said. "I was only thinking, 'What does this mean? What does this mean?' "

They were married the following September at his parents' dairy farm in Wisconsin. She'd been accepted to William Mitchell School of Law in St. Paul but knew that would be grueling. "So we decided to take a year off and 'be married.' " Over the next decade, they tag-teamed their education, moving to Oklahoma for her law degree, then to Virginia for his in clinical therapy. Their family began to grow.

While expecting their fourth child, they met friends who took in pregnant teenagers. Inspired, they decided to become foster parents, opening their home over six years to 23 girls who stayed for a few weeks or a few years. "Four at a time were the most we had," Bachmann said. "There were times I thought, 'I'm so tired I'll never get conditioner in my hair again.' "

 

• • •

Heidi Frederickson, Bachmann's press secretary, was dying a little inside. At Sophia Bachmann's 13th birthday party, a half-dozen teenage boys were showing the congresswoman how to use her feet to play a game beamed onto the floor of a movie-theater lobby.

A newspaper photographer clicked away. And with every click, Frederickson winced.

To a press secretary, this was like watching an iceberg bobbing near her ship of state. She could imagine the photo of a pair of heels amid the boys' sneakers posted on some blog with a caption sniggering about the congresswoman cavorting with underage youth.

(Sophia, it must be noted, was not dying, but treated her mom's buoyancy as the most natural thing in the world. )

Blogs, YouTube and Photoshop have added a new level of scrutiny to politics, and a new level of alertness to Frederickson's job. The irony is that her strict vigilance only plays into the hands of people such as Ken Avidor, a regular contributor to a blog called Dump Michele Bachmann. (www.dumpbachmann. blogspot.com.)

"Bachmann's people are very secretive," said Avidor, a 52-year-old Minneapolis comic artist, who said he is driven by Bachmann's lack of support for public transportation.

"They protect her, they keep her away. It's the secrecy. We like politics in America to be a discourse instead of a hit-and-run thing like she does."

And Avidor's work --posting videos on YouTube and splicing her into disparaging photo montages -- raises the level of such discourse?

He laughed. "You're right; it doesn't. But right now the politics have reached a point where you have people who are so partisan and so poisonous to the system that we have to do this."

So it becomes Frederickson's job to manage every moment as best she can.

Bachmann also chooses her words with more care. During the campaign, she was often chatty, gushing on her website about eating ice cream with the president or to a reporter about shopping for a dress for election night.

Now, she gives the impression that she's determined to say nothing more than necessary to reporters. When talking about her shift from the Legislature to the halls of Congress, she doesn't hold forth on the politics of the power shift but brings up something more benign.

"One thing I've learned is that it rains almost every late afternoon," she said. "So I've learned to carry an umbrella with me."

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