I used to think Michele Bachmann was hilarious, and so did you: I know because you clicked the blog posts that I wrote about her. It didn’t matter what she did. She could make a funny face, pronounce a word incorrectly, pronounce a word correctly—the traffic would always come. She provided a constant fix of comical escapism that readers loved. Like Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann was always a sure success.
It became part of the daily routine: Post a 20-second clip of Michele Bachmann saying something silly, secure ten trillion page views, then work on a lengthier piece with actual value that five or six people would read. Many young political writers were able to have their jobs because traffic was heavily subsidized by Michele Bachmann saying something weird at a barbecue in Ames or whatever, everyday.
Many commentators will miss her for this reason. James Carville, for one, called her retirement announcement a “sad day.” Who will deliver the funnies now? Texas Representative Louie Gohmert, Carville suggested. We’ve still got Gohmert.
Yeah, I don’t know. It’s difficult to call Bachmann’s retirement a “sad” event right now, even with tongue in cheek. Face it: The show had been getting less and less worth watching in recent seasons. Almost entirely infuriating, really, if worth caring about at all. Let’s not remember Michele Bachmann as the goof she got away with portraying for so many years, while she was really doing so much damage. Her “legacy,” which, hope against hope, will eventually prove nil, was a very nasty, egomaniacal one, rife with smears and dark innuendo. The harm she caused to the political culture far outweighs the lift of a daily laugh. Peak Bachmann coincided with her political career’s high-water mark—that period in the summer of 2011, when she briefly led the polls for the Republican presidential nomination, before collapsing. Inflated, perhaps, by her success, she began to flaunt her uglier beliefs. Bachmann’s tumble from the top (which would have happened over one thing or another, eventually) accelerated into free fall during an early September 2011 debate, when she attacked fellow eventual loser Rick Perry over his 2007 gubernatorial mandate for all sixth-grade Texas girls be vaccinated against HPV. There were legitimate angles to work here—Perry’s close ties with a lobbyist from Merck, the pharmaceutical company that made the HPV vaccine Gardasil. She made that point during the debate. Afterwards, however, she went on television to describe her encounter with a woman in the audience:
“She told me that her little daughter took that vaccine, that injection, and she suffered from mental retardation thereafter,” Bachmann said. “There is no second chance for these little girls if there is any dangerous consequences to their bodies.”
Repeating this without qualification wasn’t just sloppy; it was pernicious and wholly inappropriate. Medical professionals are constantly working to swat back such rumors that embed in the mind quickly and are difficult to erase. And here was a presidential candidate, bizarrely trusted by a not insignificant number of parents, voicing it as truth on national television. That’s not stupidity, or whimsy, or comical ineptness. It’s viciousness. This was the year of the debt ceiling crisis, as well. Perhaps you remember it? It was that fantastic time when Congress considered arbitrarily destroying the credit of the United States and, along with it, the entire global economy, all because Republican politicians thought it would be too much of a hassle to explain what the debt ceiling was to their constituents. (Or, in a scary number of cases, to learn what it was themselves.) Michele Bachmann was a prominent player in that group. And even after the crisis had passed, at the non-fatal but still very avoidable cost of an S&P downgrade of U.S. debt, Bachmann was still out there, explaining to America that she had witnessed the crisis and proudly learned no lessons from it:
“I think we just heard from Standard & Poor’s. When they dropped—when they dropped our credit rating, what they said is, we don’t have an ability to repay our debt. That’s what the final word was from them. I was proved right in my position: We should not have raised the debt ceiling. And instead, we should have cut government spending, which was not done. And then we needed to get our spending priorities in order.”
And so she pledged repeatedly to never sign a debt ceiling hike if she were elected president. To call this position of hers, or her personally, stupid, would have let this off the hook too easily. What if she wasn’t? What if she was just awful? Her most egregious move may have come last summer, when she smeared Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s longtime aide Huma Abedin as being in cahoots with the Muslim Brotherhood’s perceived attempts to infiltrate “the highest reaches of the federal government.” Her evidence was … limited. She relied upon lunatic sources like Frank Gaffney, who likely checks for Muslims under his bed each night before going to sleep. Per Salon:
In case Abedin hasn’t already been through enough already, Bachmann is now questioning her loyalty to the U.S. by asserting that Abedin has three family members who are connected to the Muslim Brotherhood (Abedin is Muslim). She’s been targeted before by anti-Muslim activists, and Bachmann notes that Abedin’s position “affords her routine access to the Secretary and to policy-making.” Bachmann also claims the state has “taken actions recently that have been enormously favorable to the Muslim Brotherhood and its interests.”
At some point in the last year, the voters in Bachmann’s district decided that maybe they would be better served by an alternate member of Congress. She won with only 50.4 percent of the vote in 2012, and now, facing a more difficult rematch for 2014, Bachmann is choosing to make the exit on her grounds. Nevertheless, she managed to win a whole four terms to the House of Representatives. What many laughed at for the early years were the same things that others took as reasons to support her candidacies.
Maybe it’s because I no longer have the pleasure of scrambling to meet traffic quotas each day, but right now, I see no cheeky reasons to mourn Bachmann’s loss from public service. She’s not funny anymore. She’s only terrible. Louie Gohmert isn’t funny anymore. Chuck Grassley’s Twitter isn’t funny anymore. Sarah Palin isn’t funny anymore. (Okay, she was sort of funny at CPAC.) If you never thought any of these sure-things were ever even slightly funny, consider our caps doffed. And join us in being content to see that for Bachmann, it’s all over.
By: Jim Newell, The New Republic, May 29, 2013
One bonus for Republicans in the trifecta of pseudo-scandals ensnaring the Obama White House this month is that it distracted the party from its looming civil war. It’s even possible that the Senate immigration reform got as far as it did partly because wingnut radio talkers and Tea Party xenophobes were consumed by their hatred of Obama, and paying less attention to GOP immigration sellouts.
But with the easing of scandal fever on the Potomac, Republicans are back to fighting one another, and the week-long Senate clash between freshman Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. John McCain over the budget is exposing the yawning gulf within the party once again.
Now that the GOP-dominated House and Democratic-led Senate have passed very different budgets, McCain has tried to argue for the formation of a conference committee that would try to reconcile the two. That might be a thankless, impossible task nowadays, but it’s nonetheless the way Congress has always worked. Democrats agree with McCain, and so do most Republicans.
But Cruz was having none of it, because he insisted sneaky Democrats might use the committee to raise the debt ceiling. He got support from Tea Party allies Mike Lee and Rand Paul, as well as Marco Rubio (trying to claw back the Tea Party credibility he lost by working on immigration reform). McCain reminded Cruz and his friends that their party controls the House. “So we don’t trust the majority party on the other side of the [Capitol] to come to conference and not hold to the fiscal discipline that we want to see happen? Isn’t that a little bit bizarre?”
Here’s where Cruz set himself apart, one man against a corrupt world. He responded to McCain on the Senate floor the next day: “The senior senator from Arizona urged this body to trust the Republicans … Let me be clear, I don’t trust the Republicans. I don’t trust the Democrats and I think a whole lot of Americans likewise don’t trust the Republicans or the Democrats because it is leadership in both parties that has got us into this mess.”
That made the senior senator from Arizona apoplectic. He accused Cruz and friends of trying to “paralyze the process.” He singled out Utah’s Mike Lee, who is not as bright a light as Cruz, for his ignorance of the way Congress works. Lee made the conference committee sound like a political brothel facilitating “backroom deals.” McCain shot back: “How do we reconcile legislation that’s been passed by one body and the other body? That’s what we’ve been doing for a couple hundred years. Perhaps the senator from Utah doesn’t know about that.”
Poor John McCain. He gave the world Sarah Palin, and Palin helped give us Cruz, Lee, Paul and Rubio. Still, Ted Cruz’s self-righteous grandeur puts him in a class by himself. He oozed condescension, openly mocking McCain, declaring that Senate Republicans would side with him on the budget impasse. “I will suggest to my friend from Arizona, there may be more wacko birds in the Senate than is suspected,” a reference to McCain calling Cruz, Paul and Justin Amash “wacko birds” earlier this year.
What’s clear is that we’ve reached a new state of warfare in the normally collegial Senate, where increasingly, a minority faction of the minority party has the power to grind everything to a halt. McCain blasted that point of view Thursday: “It’s not the regular order for a number of senators — a small number, a minority within a minority here — to say they will not agree to go to conference. We’re here to vote, not here to block things,” he said.
That’s clearly Cruz’s plan. Watching the supercilious Cruz mock the sputtering McCain, I was struck by how much he enjoyed preening for the cameras. All senators do, but Cruz stands out, with his proud contempt for Republicans along with Democrats. As he dreams of the White House, with barely five months in the Senate under his belt, look for him to play a leading role in the next debt ceiling battle.
In other news: Michelle Malkin and friends are calling me a racist for referring to Cruz as a “skeezy huckster” on Twitter yesterday as I watched him insult McCain. I admit it wasn’t my most elegant turn of phrase, but I wasn’t aware that “skeezy” or “huckster” were slurs associated with Hispanics/Latinos. Maybe that’s because I don’t travel in the same circles as Malkin. Can you say “projection”?
Still, they weren’t the most artful choice of words. If I had it to do over again, I would call Cruz a “supercilious con man.”
By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, May 24, 2013
“On Orders From God And The Founding Fathers”: What Ted Cruz Means When He Says He Mistrusts Both Parties
Okay, class, here’s what should be an easy assignment:
What does it mean when Sen. Ted Cruz says the following on budget negotiations (per TPM’s Sahil Kapur)?
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) on Wednesday defended his objection to initiating House-Senate budget negotiations unless Democrats take a debt limit increase off the table, saying he doesn’t trust his party to hold the line.
“The senior senator from Arizona urged this body to trust the Republicans. Let me be clear, I don’t trust the Republicans,” Cruz said. “And I don’t trust the Democrats.”
On Tuesday, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) scolded Republicans for blocking negotiations. He was backed by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME).
“Unfortunately,” Cruz said, “one of the reasons we got into this mess is because a lot of Republicans were complicit in this spending spree and that’s why so many Americans are disgusted with both sides of this house. … And every Republican who stands against holding the line here is really saying, let’s give the Democrats a blank check to borrow any money they want with no reforms, no leadership to fix the problem.”
Does it mean, as political reporters often blandly repeat, that “Tea Party” pols like Cruz are hardy independents who care about principle rather than about the GOP, and represent a constituency that is up in the air?
No, and I might add: Hell no! Cruz specifically and Tea Party members generally, for all their independent posturing, are the most rigid of partisans, and are about as likely to vote with or for Democrats as a three-toed sloth is likely to win a Gold Medal in the 100-meter dash. Yes, they often threaten to form a Third Party, but never do (why should they when their power in one of the two major parties is overwhelming and still growing?), and even more often threaten to “stay home” during elections, but in fact tend to vote more than just about any other sizable bloc of Americans.
So what’s with their inveterate Republican-bashing, if they usually vote and almost always vote Republican?
There are two interconnected explanations. The first is that they want to make it clear that for them the GOP is not a tradition, or a roughly coherent set of attitudes, or a mechanism for civic participation and ultimately the shaping of public policies through democratic competition and cooperation: it’s a vehicle for the advancement of a fixed and eternal set of policies, mostly revolving around absolute property rights and pre-late-twentieth century cultural arrangements. Those who view the GOP as anything other or less than this sort of vehicle are deemed RINOs or “establishment Republicans,” and presumed to be in charge of the party, evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.
So when Tea Party champions or “true conservatives” or “constitutional conservatives” (three terms for the same people) say they’re not willing to sacrifice their principles to win elections, do they really mean it, and is that the difference between them and those “establishment Republicans” like John McCain that they are always attacking? No, not really. They want to win elections, too, but only in order to impose a governing order that they believe should be immune to any future election, immune from contrary popular majorities generally, and immune to any other of those “changing circumstances” that gutless RINOs always cite in the process of selling out “the base.” And that’s why they are willing to use anti-majoritarian tactics when they are in the minority, and anti-minority tactics when they are in the majority: the only thing that matters is bringing back the only legitimately conservative, the only legitimately American policies and enshrining them as powerfully as is possible.
So from that perspective, sure, they’re conservatives first and Republicans second. But this isn’t a “revolt” against the GOP, but a takeover bid, executed through primaries (e.g., Ted Cruz’s victory over “establishment Republican” David Dewhurst) and the power of money and ultimately sheer intimidation. Ted Cruz won’t “trust Republicans” until they’re all taking orders from people like him, who are in turn simply taking orders from God Almighty and the Founding Fathers.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, May 22, 2013
“Extortion For The Sake Of Extortion: Republicans Taking The Politics Of Extortion Past The Breaking Point
With the House and Senate both having passed budget resolutions, the next step in the process should be a conference committee, which Republican leaders said they wanted. Recently, however, they changed their mind and now refuse to allow the process to proceed.
Why? I’ve worked under the assumption this is the result of GOP lawmakers feeling apprehension about their unpopular ideas and fearing a public backlash. But the Washington Post reports there may be a little more to it.
[The shrinking deficit] might seem like good news, but it is unraveling Republican plans to force a budget deal before Congress takes its August break. Instead, the fiscal fight appears certain to bleed into the fall, when policymakers will face another multi-pronged crisis that pairs the need for a higher debt limit and the fresh risk of default with the threat of a full-scale government shutdown, which is also looming Oct. 1.
In the meantime, Republicans face a listless summer, with little appetite for compromise but no leverage to shape an agreement. Without that leverage, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Tuesday, there is no point in opening formal budget negotiations between the House and the Senate, because Democrats have no reason to consider the kind of far-reaching changes to Medicare and the U.S. tax code that Republicans see as fundamental building blocks of a deal.
“The debt limit is the backstop,” Ryan said before taking the stage at a debt summit organized by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation in Washington.
I realize talking about budgets, conference committees, and debt ceilings is dry. This no doubt strikes some readers as inside baseball, of little interest to anyone other than political junkies and wonks.
But I hope folks will take a moment to consider what Ryan and his colleagues are saying here. They’re admitting, publicly and without shame, that they can’t engage in budget negotiations unless they can also threaten to deliberately crash the economy. GOP lawmakers want a “backstop” that will give them “leverage” in talks — whereas the conference committee is ostensibly about finding a bipartisan, bicameral compromise, Republicans need the possibility of a brutal self-inflicted crisis to hang over the process.
And if they can’t have it, they won’t engage in the budget process at all.
Wait, it gets worse.
Congressional Republicans made a series of assumptions, all of which have turned out to be wrong. They assumed Senate Democrats couldn’t pass a budget. They assumed Democrats wouldn’t want a budget process considered under regular order. And they assumed the budget talks, if they occurred, would happen around the same time as the need for a debt-ceiling increase.
GOP lawmakers were terribly disappointed, then, to see Senate Democrats do exactly what they were asked to do, and the economy improved quickly enough to push off the debt-limit deadline until fall.
But with their plans foiled, Republicans are stuck with no Plan B, no leverage, and no credible threat. Consider how remarkable this is:
[S]enior Senate Republicans, including several who recently dined with Obama and huddled with administration officials, conceded that it may be tough to bring their colleagues to the table too far ahead of the debt-ceiling deadline.
“I think there’s a better atmosphere for a solution than there’s been in the past, but I’m a little worried about people here in the Senate having fiscal fatigue. There isn’t any sense of urgency right now,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), one of three senators who joined Obama on Monday for a round of golf.
“We need to realize this debt ceiling is out there. It’s inevitable. It’s coming. And [the later deadline] should not relieve pressure,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), the senior Republican on the Senate Budget Committee. But “sometimes we don’t want to act until a gun is at our heads.”
Think about that for a second. The ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee is willing to admit — out loud and on the record — that there can’t be a budget process unless he and his Republican colleagues can threaten to trash the full faith and credit of the United States on purpose.
And here’s the kicker: Republicans aren’t even asking for anything specific yet. They know they want to hold the nation hostage, but they’re not sure why, and haven’t figured out what their demands are. Jonathan Bernstein argued persuasively yesterday that we’re looking at “extortion for the sake of extortion.”
The House crazy caucus is demanding not debt reduction, not spending cuts, not budget balancing, but blackmail itself. That’s really the demand: The speaker and House Republican leaders absolutely must use the debt limit as extortion. What should they use it to get? Apparently, that’s pretty much up for grabs, as long as it seems really, really, big — which probably comes down to meaning that the Democrats really, really don’t like it.
It’s the extortion that’s the point. Not the policy.
I’ve run out of adjectives to describe how crazy this is, but I’ll just conclude with this: those pundits who assume Republicans are a mainstream political party, and it’s a mystery as to why President Obama hasn’t had more success negotiating with these folks, just aren’t paying close enough attention.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 9, 2013
“Making Governing As Miserable As Possible”: Republicans Discover Sequester Budget Cuts Are Politically Unpopular
Back in February, a Pew Research Center poll showed that while Americans like the abstract idea of “spending cuts,” they don’t support reducing actual spending on, well, anything. Foreign aid very nearly (but not quite) achieved a majority in support of cuts, but for every other government activity – including education, entitlements, environmental protection and infrastructure – Americans are loathe to reduce the level of investment.
The GOP recently seems to have taken the public’s position to heart. Exhibit A is Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., who took to the House floor last week to decry the so-called “sequester” because it “breaks everyone’s heart” to see services such as Head Start and Meals on Wheels cut. “There are numerous Republicans that voted against the sequestration because we knew all of these calamities were in the future,” Bachmann said. “Didn’t you know this was going to happen? We knew it. That’s why we voted against this bill.”
As the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler ably details, Bachmann is significantly rewriting history by claiming that she was against the sequester because it cuts too much from key services. At the time, she very publicly explained that she was against it – and other far more severe budget plans – because it did not cut enough.
But this trend goes far beyond Bachmann. Take, for instance, the GOP’s latest debt ceiling gambit. Come the fall, the federal debt limit will have to be raised again, and Republicans are already making noise about which policy concession they hope to wring out of the White House this time.
Unlike previous episodes, though, it seems that the GOP won’t demand entitlement cuts, but has instead decided that a revenue-neutral rewrite of the tax code (which would do nothing to reduce the deficit) will be the price of avoiding a self-induced economic calamity.
The reason for this shift is Republicans fear that embracing entitlement cuts such as those included in the president’s most recent budget “would be political suicide.” As New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait puts it, “Oh! So you threaten to melt down the world economy unless Obama agrees to cut spending on retirement programs, and then he offers to do that, and then you decide it’s too unpopular?”
The only GOP goal at the moment seems to be making governing as miserable as possible for the Obama administration. That leads to a lot of heated rhetoric about the threat of the deficit and the imminence of a debt crisis, scaremongering about the U.S. turning into Greece and creating the impression that there are gobs of taxpayer dollars being flushed down some bureaucrat’s toilet somewhere, thus playing off the public’s fear of a budget deficit that it doesn’t understand but knows it doesn’t like.
But when push comes to shove – and people are actually living with the effects of government spending cuts as they, for instance, try to travel by air – the GOP’s true colors show. So we wind up with a cockamamie budget discourse in which one party doesn’t really want to cut spending but offers to do so anyway, while the other demands spending reductions but then turns them down when the president agrees. (Unless, of course, those cuts affect discretionary spending on the poor, in which case, the GOP does nothing to stop them, but, ala Bachmann, wants none of the credit.) And all the while, the economy sputters along without the support it so desperately needs.
By: Pat Garofalo, U. S. News and World Report, April 30, 2013