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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Bachmann's Gaffes Matter

Michele Bachmann had a rather bizarre 36 hours. She did Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace and the interviewer asked her to respond to the charge that she is a “flake.” It was a softball question and he personally apologized for it.

In 2007 Ron Paul made the case that we should be out of the Middle East, among other reasons, because they don’t want us there and Wallace shot back by saying, “You’re basically saying we should be taking our marching orders from al Qaeda?” Might that have had a little more buckshot in it than (paraphrasing) "How does it make you feel when some people kinda think that, maybe, you might be a little bit of a flake, not that I think you’re a flake?"

Wallace’s public and then private apology to Bachmann sandwiched her announcement on Monday that she was officially running for president in Waterloo, Iowa. Earlier she had said it was the birthplace of John Wayne. Of course, John Wayne the actor wasn’t born in Waterloo, but the serial killer John Wayne Gacy did live there. Her supporters, who would probably not bat an eye if she said the earth was flat, don’t seem to think it’s a big deal because John Wayne’s parents lived in Waterloo for a time and that should be close enough.

Well, it is a big deal, not because presidential candidates necessarily need to know where Republican actors were born, but someone running for chief executive should be able to remember facts.

It’s not just a matter of misspeaking. At some point everybody says one thing when they mean another. Accidents happen but from context you can figure out what was obviously meant. No one can possibly think Bachmann intended to compare herself to a serial killer. She meant to compare herself to The Duke and she meant to say that The Duke was from Waterloo.

Here's a personal example to illustrate this absurdity of trying to justify just this gaffe: My parents briefly lived in St. Cloud, Minnesota before moving to Kentucky where I was born and raised. Would it be any more of a pathetic gaffe if I or anyone else said I had been born in St. Cloud, but oh, it's not a big deal because my parents lived there for a time?

Maybe the problem is that Bachmann was a lawyer before politics. Perhaps she’s accustomed to making things up and assuming no one will figure it out. John Edwards, another lawyer, made a fool of himself in 2004 by claiming that Christopher Reeve would walk if John Kerry was president.

With George Stephanopoulos, Bachmann claims that John Quincy Adams was a founding father and sticks by it even though John Quincy was a child at the time, albeit an exceptionally gifted child.

The closest thing to evidence she can say to support JQA as a founding father is that he was "actively involved" as his father’s secretary. It’s quite a stretch to claim that being a personal secretary makes one a founder and it certainly wouldn't pass muster on an essay test.

She also says the founding fathers worked "tirelessly" to abolish slavery. It's a loaded statement. It's really no more accurate to say the founders worked tirelessly to abolish slavery than it is to blame them all as just a bunch of slave-holding white guys.

Here she makes a mistake by speaking about the founders as if they were monolithic or if the founding of the country represented some sort of utopia. Yes, there were some founders who worked to get rid of slavery, particularly Franklin, but the legacy of the founders regarding slavery is that they were content to punt.

These gaffes aren’t harmless as some would have us believe. Ignorance leads to consequences.

According to former ambassador Peter Galbraith, George W. Bush didn't know the difference between Sunni and Shiite Muslims before the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Might a rudimentary knowledge of the people whose country was about to be raped liberated have been a tad helpful? Does careful knowledge of one's own country matter?

Gaffes matter because they reveal inattention to detail and a lack of critical thinking. Bachmann's behavior of shaking off these missteps without any indication of reflection and her defenders' acts of pointing to Obama's flubs suggests she and they don't really care about these issues in the first place.

Should we have expected anything different from someone who, yes, probably is a "flake?"

Carl Wicklander,
Regular Columnist, THL
Articles Author's Page Website