The XX Factor

Michele Bachmann’s Irrelevant Hypocrisy

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Jessica, I’m not going to go as far as defending Bachmann against unfair attacks, but I do have to object to some narratives about her candidacy that misunderstand her base of support.  Lois Romano’s profile of Michele Bachmann for the Daily Beast certainly gets the job done in capturing Bachmann’s ability to ride a wave of right wing resentment toward what will probably be a first place showing in Iowa before her eventual primary loss to a more electable candidate like Mitt Romney. But I do believe that Romano overrates the question of “hypocrisy” in Bachmann’s campaign when she writes of the challenges facing the campaign: 

One is overcoming the perception of hypocrisy. Democrats—and some of Bachmann’s Republican opponents—have noted the gulf between her rhetoric and record. She earned a federal salary as a lawyer for the IRS (an agency despised by the Tea Party), for example.

She goes on to mention Bachmann’s history of taking federal subsidies and pushing for earmarks for her district, even as she denounces the IRS, federal subsidies, and earmarks. And it’s true that it’s fun to point out these ridiculous contradictions, mostly because they demonstrate that Bachmann isn’t a principled ideologue so much as a standard issue right wing grifter, and that she’s probably eyeballing a Sarah Palin/Newt Gingrich-style career of living off direct mail contributions and writing books that mostly go unread but make easy Christmas gifts for Fox News-loving relatives who have run out of places on their homes to hang American flags.  

That said, I don’t think the “hypocrisy” angle is going to matter when it comes to a single vote.  People who enjoy hearing about her hypocrisy already opposed her not so much because she’s a hypocrite, but because she’s a raving lunatic who clearly has no more understanding of how the federal government works than how to spy on gay rights rallies without getting caught. People who support her, on the other hand, don’t really see taking federal money while denouncing federal spending as hypocrisy. To really understand the Tea Party, you have to understand that it’s more about culture war than it is about some kind of generalized anti-federal stance, as evidenced by the widespread conservative support for federalism that suits their ends. The objection to federal spending is due to the belief that it goes to the “wrong” people.  Bachmann is the “right” kind of person, and so her acceptance of federal support won’t really raise any alarms among the kind of voters she’s hoping will propel her to a reasonable showing in the primaries that will lead to a career as a professional right wing ideologue.