Milbank: Bachmann, for whom the bell tolls
WASHINGTON Bob Dole must be some kind of prophet.
Not 72 hours after Fox News aired the former Republican leader's suggestion that the GOP put out a "closed for repairs" sign, Michele Bachmann announced that she's going out of business. Just like that, the Republican conglomerate got an unexpected chance to shutter one of the balkiest shops in its supply chain.
Bachmann, the Republican congresswoman from Minnesota who ran a tea party-backed presidential campaign in 2012, made her announcement in a video released in the wee hours of Wednesday morning containing her trademark mixture of bombast, paranoia and error.
The error came fairly late in her eight-minute, 40-second video. "I fully anticipate the mainstream liberal media to put a detrimental spin on my decision," she declared over vague synthesizer music.
Detrimental? Um, no. It's hard to see the mothballing of Michele as anything but unalloyed good news, for the party and the country.
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.
Whether she was calling President Obama a socialist, misplacing John Quincy Adams in history as a "Founding Father," or wishing Elvis Presley a "happy birthday" on the anniversary of his death, Bachmann frequently furnished evidence for her claim that God had called her to run for president if only to provide comic relief.
But for all her entertainment value, Bachmann has done more than any other elected official to inject false claims 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 Washington Post's fact checker, Glenn Kessler, found that Bachmann told a higher percentage of whoppers than any other lawmaker.
Bachmann has also been one of the most prominent practitioners of the obstinacy Dole was talking about in his interview with Chris Wallace. "It seems to be almost unreal that we can't get together on a budget or legislation," the elder statesman said. Arguing that even Ronald Reagan would be unwelcome in today's GOP, Dole warned that "the country is going to suffer" from the refusal to compromise.
As if in response, Bachmann's farewell video was a celebration of her refusal to budge from her "core of conviction" on conservative causes. "I will continue to work vehemently and robustly to fight back against what most in the other party want to do," she vowed.
The good news is voters appear to be tiring of this approach, a sentiment Bachmann addressed defensively in her announcement. "Be assured my decision was not in any way influenced by any concerns about my being re-elected to Congress," protested Bachmann, who would have faced a rematch against the Democrat she beat by just 1.2 percentage points in a district Mitt Romney won easily.
"And rest assured," she continued, "this decision was not impacted in any way by the recent inquiries (by the FBI, the Federal Election Commission and the Office of Congressional Ethics) into the activities of my former presidential campaign or my former presidential staff."
Of course not.
Bachmann smiled directly into the camera throughout her video, avoiding that off-center stare that caused ridicule of her televised response to Obama's 2011 State of the Union address. Soft, slow music, with a sound not unlike a church bell tolling, played as she began her announcement.
After a recitation of her accomplishments (she attended Margaret Thatcher's funeral, criticized "this administration's despicable treatment" of Israel and "called out the Muslim jihad terrorists for who they are") she thanked God and family. The bell tolled a final time as the video faded to black and so, too, did the career of a lawmaker unlike any other this country has seen since the shot heard around the world was fired in New Hampshire.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.