She’s feisty, fashionable and no push-over when it comes to policy debates. No wonder Michele Bachmann has increasingly become the face of the Republican Party on national talk shows during the waning weeks of this hardfought election.
But those at GOP central casting neglected to do their research in this key department: Things That Make You Go ‘Huh?’ That error of omission could hurt both the party and Bachmann, a one-term congresswoman up for re-election in Minnesota’s sixth district.
Bachmann seems to be approaching critical mass when it comes to bizarre incidents and statements. The latest came on Friday, during an interview with Chris Matthews on MSNBC’s "Hardball.’’ The network has been criticized by Republicans for having a pro-Democrat bias. On Friday, Matthews clearly was on a mission to get Bachmann to say something provocative, asking variations of the same question over and over about whether Barack Obama and members of Congress were "anti-American.’’
Still, Bachmann obliged. On Obama, she said: "Absolutely. I’m very concerned that he may have anti-American views.’’ After Matthews pressed her repeatedly about her Congressional colleagues, Bachmann stated: "The news media should do a penetrating expose and take a look. I wish the American media would take a great look at the view of the people in Congress and find out: Are they pro-America or anti-America?"
Given the tone of the presidential campaign, Bachmann’s jab at Obama was not surprising. But her comments about her congressional colleagues were just plain alarming. Colin Powell, who endorsed Obama over the weekend, called Bachmann’s comments "nonsense,’’ though he thought a Minnesota congressman had made them. Bloggers who took aim at the congresswoman wondered if she wanted Joe McCarthy-style hearings to root out Communist colleagues. It was a fair question. "Anti-American" is an incredibly loaded term.
On Monday, Bachmann campaign spokeswoman Michelle Marston defended her boss, saying she was "badgered" by Matthews. Bachmann, Marston said, doesn’t want hearings, nor did she have any colleagues in mind when she called for an expose. "The whole idea that she wants a return to McCarthyism or the House Un-American committee, it’s just bogus. She never called for that.’’
Marston also dismissed Powell’s comments, saying the gender confusion was evidence that Powell was reading off a talking points memo prepared by the Obama campaign. "I would venture a guess he hadn't seen the piece at all,'' she said.
Give Marston points for a spirited defense. But the Hardball incident is just the latest of headscratching moments brought to you by Bachmann. As a state legislator, she was filmed hiding in the bushes at a rally against her same-sex marriage amendment. She once brought people into the Minnesota Capitol to pray over the desks of lawmakers who opposed her. Highlights of her time in Congress include the uncomfortably long embrace of George W. Bush after a state of the union address. More recently, her opposition to energy-efficient lightbulbs garnered jeers and notoriety.
Marston said the people of Bachmann’s north suburban sixth district are "talking about her stand on energy, her stand on the economy and how she’s been talking about the issues that they care about.’’
Like Bachmann, I’m an Anoka High School graduate. I moved back to the sixth district over a decade ago. I couldn’t disagree with Marston more. When Bachmann comes up in conversation, it’s not in connection with policy or substantive issues. Invariably, talk centers on the Bush clutch and the where-did-that-come-from light bulb legislation. The Hardball interview certainly did not help in that regard. Instead, it gave sixth district voters yet another reason to wonder about her.
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