04 April 2011

Is Michele Bachmann 'for real'?

Seeing Time magazine profile the Minnesota congressman Michele Bachmann -- or more accurately, profile her potential as a presidential candidate -- led me to ask, not for the first time, why anyone outside her state or district cares what Bachmann says or does. I last asked myself when I saw the MSN homepage make her opinion on the Libyan no-fly zone a headline story last week. As it turned out, Bachmann expressed reasonable skepticism on the subject, but still -- so? There seems to be an irrational obsession with her in media circles, but if irrational it is understandable. She attracts attention in part because she's been a mighty fundraiser. Time writer Michael Scherer notes that Bachmann raised more money in two years than any other Representative in history. She draws money, I suspect, because she's exactly the sort of polarizing figure that fascinates the media. Her accomplishments, from what I can tell, have been rhetorical rather than legislative, but I suspect that the media has built her up for exactly that reason. I wonder sometimes whether she's really a creation of the "liberal" media. Bachmann first came to many people's attention, it seems, when she gave President Bush a flamboyant smooch on the night of the 2007 State of the Union address. Since then, Democratic opinionators have blown up her every eccentric utterance, from factional gaffes about the American Revolution to incendiary ideological statements. The "liberal" media has been arguably promoting Bachmann because she seems to embody their demon-image of the Republican party, the conservative ideology and, most recently, the Tea Party movement, while the "corporate" media embraces any controversial figure, within two-party bounds, who can be made the subject of a regular ten-minutes hate for which ad time can be sold. For all I know, Republicans and Tea Partiers have rallied to Bachmann and thrown money at her exactly because they see how she annoys liberals in the media. I don't suppose it's because of any actual legislative accomplishments. The Minnesotan may be the perfect product of Bipolarchy, cultivated by both sides to wage the kind of campaign with which both (and the media) are most comfortable, an insubstantial war of rhetoric rather than a constructive debate. Scherer doesn't think Bachmann can win the GOP nomination, let alone the Presidency, but he declares her "for real" because she could influence the fortunes of other Republican aspirants thanks to her assumed strength in Iowa as a native of the caucus state. I won't dispute his claim, but her being "for real" in the GOP field doesn't necessarily mean that the GOP race itself is for real in any meaningful sense for the nation.

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