Politics

05.29.13

Michele Bachmann Is Done: Her Hostage Tape to Reality

The congresswoman who represented the worst of American politics will not seek reelection in 2014. John Avlon on Michele Bachmann’s calculated decision to bow out now.

Our long national nightmare is over.

Well, that’s overstating it. But the congresswoman who represented the worst of modern American politics more than she ever tried to represent her Minnesota constituents has announced that she will not run for reelection.

Michele Bachmann is done.

Smiling stiffly through an eight-and-a-half-minute video on her website, Bachmann again illustrated the palpable strangeness—the earnest, fact-free, Kool-Aid chugging self-obsession—that characterized her congressional career and her rolling disaster of a presidential campaign.

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In her 'hostage video to reality,' Michele Bachmann announced that she would not seek re-election.

She wants the world to know that “this decision was not impacted in any way by the recent inquiries into the activities of my former presidential campaign or my former presidential staff. It was clearly understood that compliance with all rules and regulations was an absolute necessity for my presidential campaign.”

In a word: bullshit. The Office of Congressional Ethics investigation into her presidential campaign that was first disclosed by The Daily Beast is due to release its initial report soon. If it looked like Bachmann would be vindicated, she would have persisted in running for a congressional seat that had been gerrymandered to increase of her chances of representing a state that looks primed to easily reelect Al Franken to the Senate. This decision smacks of lawyer’s counsel—get out now before the boom comes down, and perhaps people will listen to your final signoff.

There is, inevitably, a rambling quality to an eight-and-a-half-minute monologue. This is Bachmann's hostage video to reality. The staff decision to back her vocal track with faint Springsteenesque music was a tell—the video would have seemed ever odder without it. Bachmann was at turns defensive and defiant and bucket-list ticking, talking about her excitement at taking a plane to London to attend Margaret Thatcher’s funeral, her co-sponsorship of the 37th attempt to overturn Obamacare (“which passed in the House”), and her philosophically contradictory commitment to bring federal tax dollars to her district to build a regional airport and rebuild a bridge. Note to Bachmann: you didn’t build that.

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Relive Michelle Bachmann's most outrageous moments.

Over her eight years in congress, Bachmann quickly achieved notoriety because of her cavalier disregard of facts (her staff told me she gets most of her information from WorldNetDaily) and her impulse to play mini-McCarthy (routinely accusing political opponents of being anti-American) and then turn around and play the victim card to raise millions of dollars online from a national conservative populist base that saw her as plan B to Sarah Palin.

There is an impulse at the end of things to search for a redeeming quality, a handshake even between opponents for past battles well fought—and no doubt by midday someone will be offering a Slate pitch to go alongside the glossy partisan media farewells. But without attempting to characterize her personal life, the way Bachmann chose to use her time at the podium of public service was a disgrace. 

She degraded national debate, consistently chose fearmongering over facts, and exhibited every impulse of the demagogue and the ideologue. If she ever bothered to do her homework, she could have been dangerous. Instead Bachmann will stand as a sad cautionary tale, a curious footnote used to explain the reality-show auditions of the 2012 GOP presidential primaries, now all part of her reel tape as she attempts to get what she always really wanted: a Fox News contract.