SONGS OF INNOCENCE, SONGS OF EXPERIENCE
National Journal's Beth Reinhard says Michele Bachmann acquitted herself well last night, though Reinhard has a caveat or two:
... The congresswoman from Minnesota managed to duplicate the spark and spunk she showed off in the last GOP primary debate -- in spades -- backing up her improbable surge in the most unpredictable Republican race in decades.
Right at the start of the debate, the petite, lone female candidate coolly turned toward her fellow Minnesotan, Tim Pawlenty, and compared the former governor's record on cap and trade and health care to that of President Obama. She remained placid when Rick Santorum and Ron Paul lashed out at her instead of focusing their blows on the race’s unofficial front-runner, Mitt Romney.
... Can she compete with the boys in the big league? Yes, she can.
Detractors will find plenty to criticize in Bachmann's latest performance. If she wanted to dispatch those, like Pawlenty, who contend that her two-and-a-half terms in Congress have left her with a thin record, Bachmann didn't help her cause by citing, as one of her signature accomplishments, the "lightbulb freedom of choice act." ...
Oh, please. That's genius. Bachmann is trying to appeal to voters who believe two things:
1. Figuring out what the government is doing is hard work, and
2. Government sucks.
Boiling it down to something simple and kitchen table-y -- and then defining her stance as a fight against liberal fascism -- is what makes it vivid for the people she wants to reach. Accusing Democrats and liberals of lightbulb totalitarianism is like accusing the government of excessive spending and framing the issue not in terms of what the government actual spends trillions of dollars on, but in terms of some $50,000 grant to a scientist who's studying cow flatulence. HAR HAR HAR! They're wastin' your hard-earned money to study cow farts! It doesn't matter that the cost is a drop in the bucket, or that the study is probably a very useful examination of atmospheric methane caused by high-yield factory farming. It's a kneeslapper! The gummint is so dumb!
I start to wonder whether Bachmann's lack of accomplishments in Congress will actually be helpful for her in the primaries, and maybe even (if she gets that far) in the general election. She has some political experience under her belt, but not enough to have actually done much (ick!) governing -- and since a lot of voters think everything about government is icky, they probably see that as a point in her favor. She's not tainted by much of anything that takes place in this arena. (You could say the same thing, I suppose, about Barack Obama in 2008 -- that he didn't bear the mark of shame that comes from actually having done a lot of governing.)
So we'll see if she can keep this up. -- and eventually we'll see if she can play the plucky-innocent card against someone tougher than Tim Pawlenty, namely Rick Perry.
And yeah, I know: at the same time, she keeps claiming she's taken the lead in fighting TARP, the debt ceiling increase, the health care law... But maybe her ineffectuality cuts both ways. Nobody remembers seeing her at the table in those battles, the way we see, say, Boehner and Cantor and Ryan and Reid all the time when we're watching Congress squabble. So she was there, but voters didn't see her there, doing stuff they don't like, namely negotiating and legislating.