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By Nicholas Wilbur

When standing with a full field of political goons and professional gaffers, and with the press corps salivating like rabid wolves on the sidelines, not looking like a dunce is akin to victory, and momentary sanity equates to electability.

And for that great feat, Michele Bachmann “stole the show,” “grabbed the GOP nomination spotlight” and generally “dominated” the first legitimate debate between candidates seeking the Republican nomination for the presidency.

It wasn’t just the “objective” mainstream editors who wrote such eulogistic headlines; the left-leaning news media couldn’t help showering the Minnesota congresswoman with praise for her performance, either.

The liberal Mother Jones magazine deemed her one of two “big winners,” second only to the clear frontrunner Mitt Romney. The government suckling platoon of anti-Republican rhetoricians over at NPR described her as “savvy,” “disciplined,” and both “polished and confident.” The New York Times said she was “competent” and “knowledgeable.”

Time magazine’s senior political analyst, Mark Halperin, called Bachmann’s debate performance “impressive” and “smooth” – that she appeared “polished, serene and in command.” Halperin predicted that with her “energized ground game” she could have a “real shot” at the nomination, under the right circumstances, as she’s surrounded herself with “a top-shelf team of veteran advisers” and has proven herself as a “formidable fundraiser” who likely will be able to afford the TV airtime necessary to compete on the national level.

The Washington Post described the debate as “a coming-out party” for Bachmann – “a 120-minute declaration that she is someone to be reckoned with in the race,” and left-leaning WAPO columnist Ezra Klein said “(Bachmann’s) candidacy has mostly been greeted as a longshot bid, but on the stage last night, she came across as one of the primary’s clear heavyweights.”
Jonathan Chait, The New Republic’s “liberal hawk” senior editor, wrote prior to the debate that “the prospect of a more conservative candidate winning the nomination is very real, and the field for such a candidate is wide open.” The two top-tier candidates, Romney and Huntsman, are “ideologically and religiously unacceptable to large segments of the party base,” he said. “The candidate best positioned to win this constituency is Michelle Bachmann.”
And after the debate, Chait added: “The skepticism about Bachmann’s prospects reflects an antiquated assumption that there’s a natural ceiling within the GOP on the support base of a hard-core religious conservative. Yet both the movement and the party have changed in ways that make that less and less true.”

The list goes on, but the point has been made, so let us stop here and ask: What? Really? Who? How?

There are only two ways to interpret this phenomenon: either the mainstream and leftwing media outlets are collaborating in some sort of covert shadow campaign meant to hand Bachmann the GOP nomination by elevating her status and promulgating her less extreme characteristics to the masses, as a best-case scenario, and, at the very least, to cause mass devastation for the moderate conservatives, such as  Romney, Huntsman and Tim Pawlenty, who might actually have a chance at beating Obama in 2012; or, the politics junkies who watched the debate were so dumbfounded by Bachmann’s ability to finish sentences, articulate policy positions and speak to a national audience without debauching details of our shared history, our Constitution, or basic economic principles, that they fell in love with the partisan windbag simply because she surpassed their expectations.

Not being much for conspiracies, I’m going with the latter.

Michael J. Stickings, founder of the liberal blog The Reaction (to which I am a contributor), may have put it best when he wrote that Bachmann “won” (his word and his emphasis) “mainly by showing that she can actually speak publicly without her head spinning ’round and vomit spewing from her mouth.”

In other words, she was the quote-unquote “clear winner” (Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone) because she didn’t answer the softball questions from CNN moderator John King with long-form conspiracy theories about Sharia law, the Chinese yen replacing the dollar, and abortion bunkers hidden underneath the White House; because she “kept her insanity bottled up” (ibid.); and because her head didn’t explode when everyone expected it would.

Now, the average reader may not see how not looking like a fool is synonymous with victory, and in the real world it is not. But in such a highly invasive and scrutinizing media culture, where politicians are trained to avoid the unmastered art of ad lib, to stick to the script and stay on point for fear their gaffe goes viral and their careers dance the southern spiral, there is rarely a political move that isn’t endlessly brainstormed, vetted, analyzed and filtered through the party leadership (or, in this case, the campaign staff) before it is presented to the public. Reporters and columnists are well aware of this fact, which is why live events such as the GOP debate have the potential to be so entertaining. Politicians may spend hours practicing the party’s regurgitated talking points, but before a live audience and without a teleprompter there are no video edits, no delete buttons, no news release revisions.

And that is why Bachmann “won” the debate. Whereas most of politicians rarely stray from the comfort zones of their rehearsed soundbites and bland policy platforms, Bachmann is lucky to look human in front of a camera. Whereas most candidates were expected to stick to the issues between unrelenting assaults against all things Obama, Bachmann took a left turn from her regular radical route to work and appeared just as sane as the rest of the field.

She stayed on script, as those brave individuals who suffered through the two hours of regurgitated conservative platitudes can attest, but most importantly she stuck to a safe, popular and party-approved script that was not at all what the mainstream media expected to hear.

Granted, she said nothing new, exciting or even memorable during the debate – other than perhaps her non-answer about whether she preferred Johnny Cash or Elvis. (“Both, both,” she said). All of her responses were made up of the same pro-life, anti-taxes, anti-EPA, anti-regulation, anti-everything-Obama-has-enacted attack-dog rhetoric that every other candidate is spewing.

Her statement that “Obama is a one-term president” may have spurred resounding applause from the Republican audience in attendance, but it wasn’t any more realistic than when Dick Cheney said it, or when Mitch McConnell said it, or when Reince Priebus said it. Her promise to repeal “Obamacare” may have titillated the taste buds of anti-socialist Kool-Aid drinkers, but it wasn’t any less idealistic than when John Boehner promised it, when Eric Cantor promised it, or when any of the other six candidates on stage for the GOP debate promised it that very night.

Bachmann defied expectations not by proposing detailed economic policies or common sense debt reduction plans, but by not looking like the nuthouse escapee she usually presents to the world.

It wasn’t intriguing or exciting or inspiring, but it was portrayed that way simply because the media was expecting a rightwing demagogue to come on stage and start speaking in tongues, and instead they saw a confident and seemingly normal human being expressing herself in complete sentences.

The reaction from the media would be no different if Charlie Sheen entered the race and kept his nostrils free of the Devil’s dandruff long enough to make it to a commercial break. His ability to transition from his usual persona into a coherent talking head would so mangle the neurological connections of the mainstream media elite that they probably would consider him “a heavyweight” too.

And for that achievement Bachmann deserves an Emmy Award for best TV actress.

It doesn’t mean she should be president, however.

I’m not one to dish out advice to the right, but it would behoove Republicans, particularly those of the Tea Party persuasion, to keep in mind the obvious fact that primary races are not the same as general elections. One guarantees a victory and requires only partisan fear-mongering and divisive threats about the future of our free republic if it continues to be ruled by a socialmarxommunist. The other guarantees only unfettered scrutiny, requires something that at least resembles a legislative record, and hinges on the ability to demonstrate widespread appeal to religiously apathetic voters, politically moderate middle class Americans, and socially phlegmatic independents, not just to the fringe base.

The conventional wisdom from the left, at least before the debate, was that Bachmann was a national joke, a socially extreme but politically powerless rightwing demagogue – a Bible-thumping anti-Darwinist whose base of supporters comprise the outnumbered but outspoken Tea Party populists, constitutional revolutionaries, birthers, truthers, and anti-government conspiracies theorists whose media time far outweighs their electoral influence – and that, because of the social, political and cultural polarization she and her ilk represent, she would be an ideal GOP nominee, in the eyes of the left, to challenge President Obama in the 2012 election…because she would lose.

I don’t believe the conventional wisdom has changed. But for the moment, the media’s handling of Bachmann definitely has. Whereas before she was knocked around with heavyweight gloves (or brass knuckles, depending on the authenticity of the source’s claims of objectivity); the post-election Bachmann so shocked the world with her split-personality theatrics that the mass media did what the mass media does best: they transformed their speechlessness into rapturous news reports full of complimentary prose and hyperbolized potential.

The fact that the majority of these reports were written without irony says something about the survival of “objectivity” in the industry. The fact that all of the reports either eloquently exculpated or outright ignored her disqualifying characteristics says something about power of a “shock and awe” campaign.

The Tea Party voice was going be heard this primary season even without Bachmann in the race. Now it will be felt, as the media has slipped on the kid gloves in their flattering reflections of her allegedly stellar debate performance.

Everyone knows that a thriving democracy depends on an informed electorate. Those who are tasked with educating the American people ought to remember the power of their words. And for their part, the American people ought to remember that just as sanity is not synonymous with victory, neither is hype synonymous with legitimacy. Like primaries and general elections, there is a stark difference between the two.


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Comment Preferences

  •  She's Crashing Behind Perry. I Think It's Time (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cany, cassandracarolina

    to move this energy over to the one who's becoming the much more plausible candidate.

    They have plenty in common so it wouldn't exactly mean starting from scratch.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Tue Sep 06, 2011 at 05:55:58 PM PDT

  •  It's a constant complaint of mine. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    msmacgyver, MKSinSA

    Your piece showed better than I ever could exactly why I complain about the media ceaselessly.

    866-338-1015 toll-free to Congress in D.C. USE it! You can tell how big a person is by what it takes to discourage them.

    by cany on Tue Sep 06, 2011 at 06:04:18 PM PDT

  •  She starting polling very well (0+ / 0-)

    amongst GOP primary voters. Which the media noted, as they should have. Which may have helped her further. This happens every election, because of people like us that are addicted to the campaign trail and demand continual polling. Would you prefer a return to the dark ages when nobody had a clue who had any chance to win?

    This signature is a lie.

    by doc2 on Tue Sep 06, 2011 at 06:07:28 PM PDT

  •  Anyone who uses the phrases (0+ / 0-)

    "electable" and "unelectable" should be hesitant to heap scorn on the political understandings of others.  Let's test the substance of these terms, shall we?

    What are the criteria for "electability" and its opposite?  Who sets those criteria, and how?   How are those criteria imposed, and by whom?  What means and systems exist for reviewing both the validity of those criteria, and the accuracy and appropriateness with which those entrusted with the task of determining electability have carried out their tasks?

    Isn't it a bit presumptuous to declare someone electable or unelectable before the voters have had the opportunity to cast a single ballot.  Don't such categorical declarations serve at least as a rhetorical usurpation of the right of the citizens to elect the candidates of their choice?  Who are the members of this opaque American "Guardian Council" that make or break candidacies on the basis of distributing the credential of electability?  How representative are they of the needs, concerns and interests of the broad array of American citizen-voters?

    As far as I can tell, in practice the only meaning "electable" has been shown to have is the determination of a vague amalgam of high-ranking partisan political operatives and national media elite figures that a particular candidate is, or is not, considered a reliable functionary in faithfully and dutifully carrying out the agenda of the hegemonic ruling elite.

    Fight the Shock Doctrine--abolish the "debt ceiling"!

    by ActivistGuy on Tue Sep 06, 2011 at 06:29:03 PM PDT

    •  Can't disagree... (0+ / 0-) Bush was deemed more "electable" than John Kerry because more voters said they would feel more comfortable having a beer with the teetotaling Bush. That said, if Palin turned off not only moderate Republicans but the majority of Democrats, surely Bachmann can't make the cut.

      The Tea Party appeals to a radical and strictly extremist conservative demographic. That is not middle America. I don't doubt that she could win a primary (if she weren't going against the Alpha male version of herself in a race dominated by misogynistic, reptilian logic), but she'll never win the majority support of general election voters.

      If I were a gambling man...which I am...I wouldn't put a dime on Bachmann. Romney will be forced go generic, appeal to sane people, and pray he can out-rally the Rapture Rightists of this nouveau GOP movement who support Perry.

  •  Shame on you for muddy-ing her waters (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    she is the bestest, strongest, and mostest, honestest testosterone free person who hears voices in her head. The only problem is that the calls come with reverse charges, which explains why Marcus needs so many federal funds.

    What we call god is merely a living creature with superior technology & understanding. If their fragile egos demand prayer, they lose that superiority.

    by agnostic on Tue Sep 06, 2011 at 07:30:40 PM PDT

  •  I want her to get the GOP nom (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    It will be a landslide in a general.

  •  Now The Media Is Doing The Same Thing (0+ / 0-)

    w/ Perry.  He may survive the primary....particularly if he keeps ducking debates.  

    But eventually he's going to have to really debate Romney & Obama.  Meanwhile, Texas is still burning, & he desperately needs the federal government to keep Texas from turning into a tinderbox.

    Haven't heard Perry say much about secession, drowning big government or making it "inconsequential" this week.  Maybe he was too busy flying over Austin in a helicopter....ala George Bush over Katrina.  

  •  I thnk its the answer she gave where she said (0+ / 0-)

    she has adopted  I forget how many children. People didn't know that about her and that made her likable even to liberals. Its a dumb reason but I think thats what started it.

    She was also caricatured before that debate by liberal media as an idiot when really she's not dumb just extreme in her political views. Ok she is a little flaky but definitely not stupid the way liberal media said she was.

    She has no chance at at the nomination though, or vp.

  •  What happened to the Lady Gaga reference? (0+ / 0-)

    I thought there'd be something about Lady Gaga :-(

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