Over there at Time magazine, they're still laying down the gravel for a possible Bachmann appearance on a White House ticket, next year.
Today I received an email from Rep. Bachmann calling my attention to the fact that Time had just named her as one of the one hundred most influential people IN THE WORLD. Not just in Minnesota or the Republican Party or the United States--but one of the most influential people "in the world."
We've come a long way, Michele and I--eh? It seems like only yesterday that I was sitting out here on my porch in Stillwater, cranking up the volume on my little AM radio, carefully taking notes to record Michele Bachmann telling local evangelical voters that Darwin's theory of evolution was so much secular humanist bullshit.
(That's a paraphrase of course, but that is the essence of what she was seeking to communicate.)
Now here it is, a scant eight years later--and America's leading newsweekly has identified Michele is "one of the one hundred most influential people in the world"--and this morning she wrote to apprise me of that fact, via bulk email. (She's sentimental, I guess.)
When I was writing a column for the Stillwater Gazette, all those years ago, the opening of a new local branch of Quizno's hot sandwich shop was considered a worthy story to run in the paper. Who knew, back then, that the tiny hamlet was already harboring someone who would one day become "one of the one hundred most powerful people IN THE WORLD?"
No, I am not sneering at Time's assessment. There is a very good argument to be made for Bachmann's inclusion on that list. She can count on the support of millions of American conservative and conservative evangelical voters--which makes her a force in the national GOP--which makes her a force that can influence the course of the politics of the United States (if only by rhetoric that drives the GOP ever further to the right)--and that influence (the influence of this nut on the political dialogue in the United States of America) may indeed be evidence that she is one of the 100 most powerful people in the world.
The first time that I began to seriously consider the possibility that "Michele would be big, in US politics," was before her election to her first term in Congress in 2006. I'd seen and heard Bachmann work crowds of evangelical conservatives at rallies and on the radio, and I knew the juice that she exercised with those voters and that political machine. I also understood the juice that Bachmann exercised in the Minnesota GOP--as the popular figurehead for the state's evangelical conservative Christians, Michele could bring the Republican leadership (including Governor Pawlenty) out of the state house and on to the front steps of the capitol to support her rally against gay marriage. That's incredible juice, I concluded, for a conspiracy theory backbencher who never delivered anything for the people she was representing in government.
But the "tipping point" for me, in terms of realizing that Michele could be really big-- "national"--was in 2006, shortly before the election: when Dump Bachmann blogger Eva Young explained the voting demographics of the Sixth District of Minnesota to me. Any conservative Republican could win the Sixth District, Eva explained, given the way the district had been drawn. (It includes such a significant number of conservatives that a conservative Republican was the default "favored candidate" in that race. And that's still the case.)
By then I'd figured out that Michele Bachmann (lowly and comparatively obscure Minnesota State Senator) enjoyed the backing of the national religious right and the national political hierarchy that leads it. Once Michele got into Congress, her protege status with the national evangelical conservative right had the potential to make her a national figure.
About that time I started to write local political reporters Eric Black of the Star Tribune and MPR's senior online political news editor Bob Collins, apprising them and their online readers of Michele's political affiliations to the national religious right and her record of circulating conspiracy charges.
That was before Michele's election to Congress: I thought Minnesota reporters like Black and Collins would treat documented evidence of Bachmann's penchants for conspiracy theory and allegiance to the national religious right as a scoop. Shows you how much I knew about the integrity and courage of the Minnesota political press, back then!
Remember: Dump Bachmann people were sending the evidence (out of Bachmann's own mouth) to supposedly liberal outlets like the Star Tribune and MPR--and they wouldn't touch it. No headlines about Bachmann as protege of the national religious right or as a conspiracy kook, in those outlets; not even if you handed them the statements by Bachmann herself on a silver platter, and laid it in the reporters' laps. (There was a pretty good article on Bachmann's questionable political history before the election, but that appeared in the City Pages: not in the state's most respected papers.)
Finally I had to accept the fact that the Strib and MPR would not publish the "she's a right wing kook" quotes. (Recognition of the long history of "kook" stuff in the Strib and MPR would come much, much later--after the national press began to report what she said, some Minnesota papers would give it the time of day in pre-election editorials. But the straight reporting on Bachmann in the state's leading papers and political would remain deplorable for years; regularly leaving out the long history of "nut" stuff, the "outright lies" stuff. And it's still the case that you have to go out of state to find the most alarming factual reporting of what Bachmann's said over the years.)
Oh, I published all the "nut" indicators that I could document. And I did so prior to her first election to Congress. I published it at a web page called thebachmannrecord.com, with dates and citations. (It's still up on the web; people still cite that stuff to this day when they're looking for solid evidence that Bachmann's an extremist.)
But if the most respected news publications in Minnesota wouldn't re-report in a timely fashion (or even ask Bachmann about it): who cares, fact or no, these are frikkin' bloggers reporting this stuff. So I used to grind my teeth when local Democrats would say "Well, yeah, she's a nut. But it's good for our Dem fundraising here in Minnesota--to have that nut representing the conservative Republican Party."
Now I bet some of them whistle a different tune. Because Bachmann's meteoric success in national politics paved the way for other "Michele Bachmann" type candidates here in Minnesota. And when the GOP gets in: they get in, those Bachmann guys and gals, to make and kill laws. Not just a problem in the Sixth District anymore, these days.
Bachmann was positioned to become a national political figure as soon as she was elected to US Congress-- if only by virtue of her connections in the national religious right and high cheekbones that look good on TV.
Now we have Time Magazine doing the same thing that Minnesota press was doing back in the day: paving the way for Michele Bachmann's rise by simply ignoring the crazy, lying side of Michele Bachmann in their political reporting.
First we had the Time profile of Michele called "The Minnesota Clipper."
No nut stuff there; you read that and you'd never know about the smears against American gays, the public charge that Barack Obama is a "tyrant," the citation as a circulator of conspiracy theories in the Southern Poverty Law Center's annual report, the relentless string of lies about public policy reported by Politifact, etc, etc. Time spins Bachmann's charge (that a Dem administration was somehow involved in the outbreak of swine flu) as one of her little "jokes." It wasn't a joke; even Bachmann didn't pretend it was.
The Time profile introduces its national readership to a feisty, "exciting" and outspoken conservative who's tough on liberals and the Obama administration--according to Time, that's all you need to know to understand this political career and agenda. The fact that she's a kook who's made a career out of documented lies, hate, and conspiracy theory doesn't enter in to it when you're reporting on White House contenders--according to Time.
And then they follow up with inclusion of Bachmann on the list of the 100 most influential people in the world. And--seeking a credible voice to explain Bachmann's character and significance--Time turns to (who else?) Rush Limbaugh. Here he is, in a single paragraph, explaining why Bachmann's one of the 100 most influential people in the world:
"I don't mind telling you that I'm a great admirer of Michele Bachmann's. Far from being the fringe outlier depicted by the mainstream media — and all too often by some on the right — she is a strong spokeswoman for unapologetic conservatism. She is neither extreme nor unreasonable, which is why her philosophy has resonated with grass-roots conservatives. She is unafraid to speak out against the crushing debt crisis we face. She is energized, rather than deterred, by the caustic criticism she constantly endures.
Michele, 55, had ambition from the get-go. A stay-at-home mom of five children and 23 foster kids, she ultimately became a tax attorney, small-business owner with her husband and political firebrand who runs rings around her opponents. If she were liberal, she'd be celebrated from the mountaintops. But she's conservative. So because she is smart, talented and accomplished and a natural leader — not to mention attractive — the left brands her as a flame-throwing lightweight. They underestimate her at their own risk."
Most of what Rush says is propaganda, of course: that's what the man does. And Time really shouldn't ask a professional right wing propagandist for new analysis of a controversial figure--but this is apparently "their approach" to journalism, these days.
But--I never thought I'd say this--in that last sentence: Rush is right. For eleven years, I've watched people who should know better underestimate her. In herself, she's nothing. A kook, a crank, a "caller in to conservative talk radio" parroting the prejudices of the right and ultra-right. But with the national Christian right backing her career since before the middle of the last decade--she's a national leader. With scores of sympathetic elected officials following in her wake, she represents the introduction of "the crazy" into the mainstream of American politics. And with publications like Time re-living the sorry, protective Bachmann reporting of the Minnesota media--she's got a solid shot at a spot on a White House ticket.