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Thursday, July 14, 2011

THE BACHMANN BUBBLE

A few political pundits on both the Left and the Right are advising, or warning, the politically attuned public to start taking Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann "seriously".  If that is a warning about a potential threat,  like put on plenty of sun block before going to the beach, it makes sense.  If it is a call for voters who want to deny Obama a second term to consider her a "serious" choice for the office of the presidency it's pretty hard to do.

The impetus for all this unlikely interest appears to be threefold.  First there is the notion that Bachmann "won" the first Republican debate. The reasons cited for this conclusion are that Romney didn't offer anything new, Pawlenty was suffering from an acute case of the blahs and the other candidates looked like the fringe candidates that they are.  Bachmann on the other hand is said to have separated herself from her evangelical and Tea Party twin Sarah Palin, by showing an ability to speak in complete sentences while offering the standard Tea Party criticisms of Obama and listing her "qualifications" for president.

In Bachmann's mind these qualifications include serving as one of 435 members of the House of Representatives for the past four and a half years, and being one of 200 members of Congress and 1,116,967 Americans who are lawyers. For those who still weren't impressed, there was the claim that she has "executive experience running a small business."  This would be her husband's Christian counseling service. And of course Bachmann never fails to mention the fact that she had five children and offered short term foster care for twenty-three others.  That's it.

So with a resume' this light why has Bachmann risen in the early polls enough to get the attention of the pundits?  Essentially, as a declared candidate, she has replaced Sarah Palin as the foremost Obama basher and source of goofy comments. This gives her constant media coverage and plays well with the red meat seeking Republican faithful on the stump. Meanwhile the other main contenders for the Republican nomination, former governors Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty are having trouble getting the media's attention talking policy.

 Bachmann has also been helped by the ridiculous political tradition of awarding the state of Iowa the first electoral contest in the nation.  Iowa is a fairly homogeneous state with a small population of a little over three million and a large agricultural component.  But it is the large proportion of Iowans who are hard right protestant evangelicals who have driven Bachmann's poll numbers in that state and have recently pushed her into a slight lead over Romney.  Bachmann has made her religious beliefs a part of her campaign by constantly telling voters that she asks God to make decisions for her.  He apparently cooperates according to Bachmann and gave her the go ahead to marry her husband, then  to go to law school, then to become a tax lawyer, to run for Congress and now run for President. To cement her popularity with Iowa voters who are similarly inclined, and for whom religion and social issues are more important that presidential qualifications, Bachmann has recently signed a pledge put out by local religious/political figure Bob Vander Plaats which would commit the presidential candidates to:

 " . . .remedy the “great crisis” in the institution of marriage" by avoiding "quicky divorces" and support a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage".  It also seeks to " protect soldiers from “intrusively intimate commingling among attracteds,” i.e. gays.  "There’s a commitment to protect women and children from “seduction into promiscuity” as well as from porn.  Signatories swear to recognize the benefits of “robust childbearing” to American “demographic, economic, strategic and actuarial health and security.” It also demands the rejection of “Sharia Islam” which it labels a form of “totalitarian control.”

What any of this has to do with the duties of the President has not been explained but it plays well in Iowa and has contributed to Bachmann's "surge".  No other Republican candidate has signed the pledge. 

This same evangelical/social issues demographic led to the upset victory of former Arkansas governor and Baptist minister Mike Huckabee in the Iowa caucuses in 2008.  Bob Vander Plaats was the  Chairman of Huckabee's Iowa campaign.  Thus it is not surprising that Bachmann would find a welcome site for her views in Iowa, which may, as in the case of Huckabee, carry over to a few other states with large conservative evangelical populations. 

Much is made by the media and political observers of a victory or poor showing in Iowa, but by itself it has little predictive value for the outcome of the national campaign. Huckabee, a popular three term governor with actual presidential qualifications, unlike Bachmann, withdrew from the contest two months after his Iowa victory.  He had won  only 12.8% of Republican delegates to the national convention in the following primaries with more diverse Republican voters.  He's now strumming a guitar on his Fox News show.

Bachmann actually refused to sign a more public policy oriented pledge put forth by some members of her Tea Party Caucus in the Congress.  These members pledged not to vote to increase the federal debt limit.  Bachmann's refusal however was not based on common sense; she refused to sign it because it didn’t contain a requirement for a "balanced budget amendment" to the Constitution and a repeal of ObamaCare.  The practical impossibility of securing either of these two requirements in time to avoid a default on U.S. debt or even ever, seems to have eluded her (amendments require a 2/3 vote in both houses of Congress and an affirmative vote in 3/4 of the state's legislatures; the Democrat controlled Senate and Obama's veto pen make repeal of his health care law currently impossible).

So how seriously should voters take this candidate?  Setting aside her wafer thin resume' and the fact that the major percentage of her supporters seem to be values voters instead of policy voters and who are geographically concentrated, a look at Bachmann's policy pronouncements so far don't seem to help her credibility.

On the contribution of human produced carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to global warming:  ". . .there isn't even one study that can be produced showing that carbon dioxide is a harmful gas."

On education in science:  "There are many scientists holding Nobel Prizes who believe in intelligent design." 

On low employment numbers:  "Do away with the minimum wage."

On Medicare and Social Security:  "Phase them out."

On dealing with Iran:  A nuclear strike against Iran "shouldn't be taken off the table."

On participation in the international economic forum, the Group of Ten:
"I don't want the United States to be in a global economy where our future is bound to that of Zimbabwe. . ."

After Iowa, Bachmann must go to New Hampshire where voters are more concerned about serious proposals to fix the economy than moral posturing and simplistic pronouncements. The current (6/14-7/11) polls reflect the change in the nature of the electorate with Romney leading Bachmann 35% to 12% in New Hampshire.  Nationally Romney leads Bachmann 23% to 13%.  Currently Obama leads Romney in a hypothetical match-up nationally 47.6% to 43% but leads Bachman 50.8% to 37%. 

So like Palin before her, Michele Bachmann is largely a media creation because of her incendiary style and propensity to make flakey statements.  Publicity and large amounts of money from the faithful may increase her popularity, and the race horse nature of the primary battle which the media favor will keep speculation alive about her chances until the reality of primaries with voters seeking thoughtful answers from more experienced and qualified candidates sends her back to Minnesota, or to Fox News, Huckabee might want to form a group.


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