Michele Bachmann Is Ready for Her Close-Up


(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)

Michele Bachmann has officially arrived. She's on the cover of Newsweek, and the article of the day is Ryan Lizza's long profile of her in The New Yorker. If you're a close student of all things Bachmann there won't be all that much surprising there, but Lizza offers an especially good detailing of the stew of extremist thought in which Bachmann has marinated over the years, covering both theocratic and anti-government conspiratorialist thinking. Near the end, Lizza makes an important point about the bond between the religious right and economic conservatives:

The two wings are now united by the simplest and most enduring strain of conservative ideology: a dislike and distrust of government. Religious and fiscal conservatives have been moving toward this kind of unity for decades, and Bachmann, in her crusades against abortion, education standards, gay marriage—as well as in her passionate opposition to raising the debt ceiling—has always cast government as the villain, often using terms that echo Schaeffer's post-Roe warning that America risked falling into the hands of “a manipulative and authoritarian élite."

Bachmann and her political consultants also know that her inoffensive ode to liberty is necessary because many voters don’t respond well to religious language. The more Bachmann talks about God, the more she is likely to be asked about Schaeffer, Eidsmoe, Noebel, and some of the other exotic influences on her thinking. The success of her campaign will rest partly on her ability to keep these influences, which she has talked about for years, out of the public discussion.

Because Bachmann's crusade to bring her particular brand of Christianity to a position of more power and influence has always been framed in significant part as a battle against government, she can easily pivot a question about gay marriage, say, to a discussion of the federal budget. And she's trying to; despite the fact that her political career up until the last couple of years was almost entirely about fighting against abortion, gay rights, and the separation of church and state, she now greets questions about social issues by saying, "I'm not involved in light, frivolous matters. I'm not involved in fringe or side issues. I'm involved in serious issues."

The intensifying of anti-government feelings among conservatives helps to promote greater unity; while in the past, an economic conservative might have had to work a little to convince an anti-abortion activist that gutting environmental regulations was something the latter ought to care about, today he can just say, "We need to fight government," and the case is made. So no matter what issue is at hand, Bachmann can say sincerely that she hates government more than any of her fellow candidates.

This will probably work pretty well during the primaries, where the most conservative voters are most likely to vote, and the other candidates aren't going to attack her for her extremist religious views or her retrograde social beliefs. But the rest of the country will be watching, too.