Michelle Bachman’s Legacy: Conservative Leadership as Super-Spin

Representative Michelle Bachman announced yesterday that she will not seek re-election next year. Her time in office did not fulfill her many promises, her fundraising machine is faltering, and she is under investigation for campaign finance inconsistencies in her failed run for US President.

The resulting editorial critique marks her withdrawal as a retreat, offering an interesting commentary on “tea party” conservatism and leadership. The core of the critique turns on the inauthenticity of her strategy (based in lies) and the slipperiness as a public figure, hiding behind sanctimony.

Her performance as a politician gives us a chance to consider the rhetoric of leadership and the dangerous relativism of super-spin.

Michelle_Bachmann_600For context, the Washington Post cover story offers a good summary of her decision, noting, with characteristic blunt criticism that “To many, Bachmann’s roughly five-year run — from obscure freshman to serious contender in the 2012 Iowa presidential caucuses to Wednesday’s retirement announcement — was a near-perfect reflection of the tea party’s greatest strengths and weaknesses….

“Michele was the first to nationalize her House races via innovative online and social media techniques,” said Ed Brookover, a consultant to the Republican.

But under the Capitol dome, where collegial relations are the foundation of building coalitions to pass laws, Bachmann had little clout, a largely aloof figure with no legislative imprint even now in her seventh year in Congress. Her statements often put fellow Republicans on the defensive.”

Dana Milbank notes that she has built her career on marketable misinformation, a strategy that is popular with political leadership as a way of galvanizing support for policies, a kind of super-spin that is a pitfall on both sides.

“Certainly, the media and late-night TV hosts will greatly miss the woman who declared that the American Revolution began in Concord, N.H., instead of Concord, Mass.; that the HPV vaccine causes mental retardation; that certain members of Congress are “anti-America”; that John Wayne came from her birthplace of Waterloo, Iowa (she confused him with serial killer John Wayne Gacy); that God created an earthquake and a hurricane to protest federal spending; that the U.S. government is plotting death panels, re-education camps and an IRS database of Americans’ medical records; and that the feds could use census data to put people in internment camps.

But for all her entertainment value, Bachmann has done more than any other elected official to inject false information into the national debate, contributing to a culture in which many conservatives detach themselves from reality. A study by the nonpartisan Center for Media and Public Affairs this week based on data from PolitiFact.com found that Republicans’ claims in recent months are three times more likely to be false than those of Democrats. The Post’s fact checker, Glenn Kessler, discovered that Bachmann told a higher percentage of whoppers than any other lawmaker.”

On the other side, EJ Dionne writes about Bachmann’s strategy of exaggerating and misrepresenting issues as a call for sound conservatives to stand up and fight against this dangerous relativism.

“Bachmann’s retirement should foster some soul-searching about the nature of our political discourse and how easy it is for falsehood and innuendo to get treated as just one more element in the conversation — no more or less legitimate than any other.

This is the very sort of relativism (“my ‘truth’ is as good as your ‘truth’ ”) that sound conservatives condemn. It ends in nihilism.”

He coins the phrase “Bachmannism,” as her legacy, because she demonstrated that “exquisitely inflammatory statements” can be powerful fundraisers and organizing tools.

“Bachmann’s method is now common currency. And here’s the beautiful thing: Even as the regular media does some of your work for you, you lambaste the very same media. This only creates more pressure on them to cover you.

“I fully anticipate the mainstream, liberal media to put a detrimental spin on my decision not to seek a fifth term,” she said in her eight-minute40-second video announcing her decision not to run. She practically invited reporters to do just that by insisting her decision did not stem from the danger she might lose reelection or because of an investigation into the finances of her 2012 presidential campaign. Is citing her denials a form of “detrimental spin”?”

Whatever answer we might give, it is certain that super-spin is not good leadership, because it results only in short term power and damages the common good while reducing trust and accountability.

Ironically, it is the common good that she imagines she represents, that is, if she is not simply Machiavellian in her willingness to trade disinformation for power.

One comment

  1. […] and now it’s time to go — and even the Republicans are relieved. Although her leadership can’t be called good political work by any measure, she has made a mark that will not go away any time […]

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