27 Jan 2011

Michele Bachmann makes her mark

The Tea Party’s latest standard-bearer – Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann – comes under fire after her personal response to President Obama’s State of the Union Address, reports Sarah Smith.

Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (Getty)

Who is Michele Bachmann?

That’s what a lot of American voters are asking themselves after Michele Bachmann launched herself on the national political stage Tuesday night, with a rather bizarre webcast. At one point on Wednesday she was the second most popular Google search in America – proving just how effective blatant self promotion can be in this country.

Congresswoman Bachmann was not invited to give the official Republican Party response to President Obama’s State of the Union address. That honour went to the rising star, Rep Paul Ryan, who criticized Obama’s health care reforms and complained that government debt is out of control. His remarks had been vetted by the party leadership and represent the party’s official policy.

And then up popped Michele Bachmann, giving her very unofficial response to the speech, on behalf of the Tea Party. The insurgent wing of the Republican Party who often do more harm than good to their mother ship.

Here was another Tea Party woman who actually makes Palin look like a serious politician.

This dual response gave the clear impression of a divided party who couldn’t even agree on how much they want to cut the federal budget or how to oppose Obama’s agenda. But Bachmann may have done more harm to her own career than to her party. While Paul Ryan looked squarely into the camera Bachmann seemed to be talking to someone or something that was off to the side. It was very disconcerting.

Apparently she was looking directly into a webcam but as result the performance that was recorded on the TV camera looked very odd.

Twitter went crazy @sethmeyers21 saying “I hope whoever is standing over my left shoulder is enjoying Bachmann’s speech. Because that’s who I think she’s looking at”. @BorowitzReport got extensively re-tweeted for his joke: “If that’s how Michele Bachmann looks into a camera she should not be allowed to drive.”

All of a sudden Sarah Palin’s ill-judged video statement after the Tucson massacre didn’t look so bad. Here was another Tea Party woman who actually makes Palin look like a serious politician.

Every other congressperson attending the State of The Union wore a black and white ribbon to commemorate those killed in Tucson and remember Gabby Gifford’s fight to recover. But there was clearly no ribbon on Bachmann’s lapel during her reply.

Presidential bid?

There is a great deal of speculation that Bachmann may be thinking about a presidential bid herself in 2012 and the idea of her going head to head with Palin has pundits salivating. @BSKneon tweeted: “I would love to see a debate between Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin. Alien Vs The Predator.”

A few of Michelle Bachmann’s latest pronouncements have been even more unhinged.

Earlier this week she gave speech to Iowans for Tax Relief in which she seemed to say that America’s founding fathers had eradiated slavery and that when the country was founded skin colour “didn’t matter”. Bachmann said that, whilst slavery was still tolerated when the nation began, the “very founders…worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States”.

Of course the truth is that many of those founding fathers kept slaves themselves and the practice wasn’t abolished until after the civil war – over 100 years later.

MSNBC host Chris Matthews nearly burst a blood vessel when he heard this – calling Bachmann a “balloon head” and demanding that other Tea Party representatives explain why she was being allowed to represent them after the State of the Union.

Bachmann spends a lot more time appearing on Fox News than she does on MSNBC – but even Glenn Beck couldn’t take it when she started suggesting that information collected by the government in their census might be used against citizens herded into internment camps.

It is a great shame that the Tea Party is so good at promoting female candidates, but seems to keep alighting ones who are supremely under-qualified.

It’s not just Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann – remember Christine O’Donnell the ex-witch who stood for election to the senate in Delaware last November? Or Sharon Angle in Nevada – possibly the only person in Nevada who couldn’t beat the unpopular senator Harry Reid.

Selecting candidates who not only cannot win, but also attract so much scorn and derision is doing nothing for the Tea Party and little for any other female politicians trying to break that “highest and hardest” glass ceiling.