On the campaign trail in Iowa, Rep. Michele Bachmann's response to the argument that she lacks the experience to run for president has been to turn the argument on its head. The Minnesota congresswoman rattles off her resume: She was a federal tax litigation attorney; she and her husband started "a successful small company"; she fought the establishment in the state Legislature and Congress.
And one more thing: Lest you think she doesn't have the brains to do battle with Obama, she rattles off her degrees. "I'm not only a lawyer, I have a postdoctorate degree in federal tax law from William and Mary," she told Fox News' Chris Wallace in June. "I work in serious scholarship."
But there was one résumé item that was missing: a Ph.D. Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when Bachmann traveled the state as an education activist, she went by "Dr. Michele Bachmann," even though she had never obtained nor sought the advanced degree that's a prerequisite for the title.
From 1998 through 2003, Bachmann was a leading opponent of a Minnesota curriculum standard called the Profile of Learning. She and her allies believed that it was leading Minnesota toward a state-planned economy; if we weren't careful, totalitarianism (or worse) could be just around the corner. "Government is implementing policies that will lead to poverty, not prosperity, by adopting the failed ideas of a state-planned and managed economy similar to that of the former Soviet Union," she explained in a policy paper she cowrote for an anti-Profile nonprofit called the Maple River Education Coalition (MREC). "The system is based upon a utilitarian worldview that measures human value only in terms of productive capability for the 'best interests of the state.'"
Along with a local education activist named Michael Chapman, she toured the state and the nation to drum up opposition to state and federal education standards. And according to eyewitness accounts and material put out by the group, she picked up an advanced degree along the way.
Mary Cecconi, a Minnesota education lobbyist who handed Bachmann her only defeat in a 1999 Stillwater school board race, recalls seeing the future presidential candidate speak at an area church shortly after that election. "Chapman was supposed to be the headliner, but there was no question that she was the star," she said. "He was supposed to be the researcher. She was supposed to be the one who focused on the legal aspect—actually that was the first time I'd ever heard someone with a J.D. called a 'doctor.'" Bachmann's 2002 anti-Profile film, Guinea Pig Kids, likewise twice identified the then-state senator as "Dr. Michele Bachmann."
And in 2000, when Bachmann knocked off incumbent GOP state Sen. Gary Laidig at the district nominating convention, the MREC fired off a news release repeatedly invoking their candidate's honorarium. "On the first ballot, Dr. Michele Bachmann was endorsed 62% to Laidig's 38%," it read. "Dr. Bachmann herself, who arrived at her convention with no intention of running, was shocked by her victory." (The narrative, promoted by the congresswoman, that she was an unlikely candidate is false—Bachmann had announced her candidacy months earlier and laid the groundwork for the upset by stacking the convention with anti-Profile activists.)
"Dr. Bachmann" might have given the activist a bit more gravitas, but it was not an appropriate title. Bachmann received a J.D.—the standard law school degree—from Oral Roberts University, and an LL.M. in tax law from William & Mary in 1988. The LL.M. does count as a postdoctoral degree, as Bachmann says, because it came after she had received a "terminal degree"—that is, a degree that can't be directly improved upon. But while J.D. (juris doctor) has the word "doctor" in it, it is not accepted practice for J.D.'s to refer to themselves as "Dr."
For basic law school graduates like Bachmann, "'Esquire' is the preferred term," says James Warren, an assistant in the dean's office at UCLA Law School. Nor does doing postdoctoral research bring with it any extra titles. "It's not like you've received another degree—it's like a fellowship," explains Zoe Fonseca-Kelly, chair of the board of directors of the National Postdoctoral Association. Rather, postdocs revert to whatever degree they had previously earned once they've finished their research.
This isn't the only instance of Bachmann exaggerating her résumé. She continues to call herself a "tax attorney" or "tax litigation attorney" even though, according to the state of Minnesota, she is not currently authorized to practice law in the state. In an effort to prove her bipartisan appeal, she has stated that Minnesota Democrats squeezed her out of her old Senate district and put her in a new, liberal-leaning one—but the districts were drawn up by the courts, and her new district actually leaned red.
On occasion, she has also stretched the truth about her foster children (she had 23) to make a political point. In a 2008 interview with Politico, she noted that she was feeling the squeeze from high gas prices because she has such a large family. "Energy will be the big focus right now," she said. "Every weekend now when I go home, I will go to the grocery store, I'll buy food for the family. We have five kids and 23 foster kids that we raise. So I go to the grocery store and buy a lot of food." The catch? She didn't have any foster children in 2008; her permit to take in foster children had expired in 2000 and she had taken in her last child, a teenage girl, in 1998.
Bachmann's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Update: A reader writes in to argue that "Dr." actually is an appropriate term for a J.D. recipient. As it turns out, there's a bit of a debate on this point within the legal community—it is a (begrudgingly) accepted practice in some states and not in others. But the fact that it's technically accepted does not mean anyone uses it. Chief among the reasons lawyers don't use "Dr." is that to most of the public, the terms suggests that you're a medical doctor or a Ph.D.—and therefore conveys a false level of expertise. Bachmann selectively used the title when she talking about education policy, a subject she had studied informally but had no advanced degree in.
Impeach President Obama? Some Republicans think it's their only choice.
Yesterday's fringe is the new mainstream, so it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise that prominent Republicans are stepping up calls for President Obama to be impeached. Over what? They're not entirely sure, but the details can come later. Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) raised eyebrows last week when told a constituent it "needs to happen," because "it would tie things up" (he has since backtracked). Sometime presidential candidate and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich suggested back in February that the President could be impeached for his decision not to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act.
And now, via Politico, here's GOP presidential candidate and tea party favorite Herman Cain, musing that impeaching Obama would be a "great thing to do":
[I]t would be a great thing to do but because the Senate is controlled by Democrats we would never be able to get the Senate first to take up that action, because they simply don’t care what the American public thinks. They would protect him and they wouldn’t even bring it up," Cain said, citing the administration's position on the Defense of Marriage Act as an impeachable offense.
Still, not everyone on the right is banging the impeachment drum. Here's former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who is touting the momentum of his fourth-place finish in the Ames straw poll (third among candidates who are still running!), talking about impeachment in the context of Rick Perry's rhetorical, um, flair:
[T]o me the rhetoric that Rick Perry used was sort of the rhetoric I would expect from a John Conyers, talking about President Bush and saying he should be impeached. We don't do that. We don't impeach people, we don't charge people with treason because we disagree with them on public policy. You might say that they're wrong, you might say lots of things about how misguided they are, but you don't up the ante to that type of rhetoric.
Rick Santorum did vote to impeach someone once before, so maybe this jab is just part of his new effort to criticize everything Perry and Michele Bachmann do or say. But if there is a movement to impeach the president, there's still a lot more work to be done. When I asked Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas)—who recently stated that the Libyan intervention was a false flag operation to allow the implementation of Obamacare—about Burgess' comments last week, he declined to comment. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), perhaps the president's biggest critic in Congress, told me he didn't think impeachment just for impeachment's sake made much sense, and that there was nothing, at least at the moment, that would necessitate such proceedings.
That isn't to say that things won't pick up again should President Obama win reelection. But for now, Republicans looking to throw the president out of the Oval Office have a much simpler path: the ballot box.
Is Paul Ryan seriously considering a presidential run? That's what the Weekly Standard's Stehen F. Hayes says:
Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan is strongly considering a run for president. Ryan, who has been quietly meeting with political strategists to discuss a bid over the past three months, is on vacation in Colorado discussing a prospective run with his family. Ryan's concerns about the effects of a presidential campaign—and perhaps a presidency—on his family have been his primary focus as he thinks through his political future.
"He's coming around," says a Republican source close to Ryan, who has been urging the 41-year-old to run.
"With Paul, it'a more about obligation than opportunity," says another Wisconsin Republican. "He is determined to have the 2012 election be about the big things. If that means he has to run, he's open to it."
So is there anything to this? Well, back in June I noted that Ryan delivered a major foreign policy speech focusing on the theme of "American Exceptionalism," which seemed like an odd move for a Congressman who focuses exclusively on domestic economic policy—unless, that is, he wanted to be something bigger. With Sen. Herb Kohl retiring at the end of this Congress, there's a job opening in the upper chamber, but Ryan has said that that would be a step down from his perch atop the House budget committee. So that leaves us with president, and given that Ryan's budget plan has become a sacred text among the current crop of candidates, who better to lead the party forward?
Of course, the other scenario here is that the Weekly Standard just really, really wants Ryan to run, and is inflating every rumor into something bigger. Last week, editor Bill Kristol published an ode (an actual ode) to Ryan, Chris Christie and others asking them to run. It was Kristol who first floated Sarah Palin as a national figure in 2008. And it's the Standard that's been the source of the loudest Ryan speculation to date. So there's precedent for wishful thinking on their part.
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is running a celebrity-style campaign for the White House.
The clearest sign yet that Michele Bachmann is not running a typical campaign for the presidency came at the end of her address Sunday night at the Black Hawk County GOP's Lincoln Day Dinner in Waterloo, Iowa. Speaking in her hometown, and taking the stage minutes after her newest, biggest competitor in the race, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Bachmann had a surprise planned to celebrate her victory at the Ames Straw Poll.
"One thing I learned when I was little was if you come to say thank you to someone, it's a good idea if you can give them something," she said. "Have you ever been to Machine Shed restaurant? Well, I went to Machine Shed restaurant on my way here today, and I thought there is nothing more American than apple pie. And I brought the biggest, baddest, deepest apple pie that I could for you tonight."
Apple pie had already been served for dessert, which Bachmann missed because she showed up late and waited in the parking lot until Perry's speech was finished. But never mind that; she had the floor and she was rolling now. "I remember when I was a little girl at the mother-daughter banquet over at First Lutheran Church, one thing they'd always do, they'd put a piece of masking tape under a folding chair and then they'd look under your chair to see who wins the prize," she said. "Soooo—tonight this is how we're going to do it: I would like to give this apple pie to the oldest—if you don't mind—Republican mother in the room. So let's see, do we have anybody who's over 39?"
When it was all over, two standing ovations later, a 100-year-old Republican mother named Mary had come home with the biggest, baddest, deepest apple pie in Waterloo and the audience that had been so smitten with Perry moments earlier was reminded of what had made Bachmann such a political force in the first place. And Bachmann had one last treat for the crowd. "I've got some Sharpie pens," she said. "So if any of you are here and want some T-shirts and some autographs, I'd be more than happy to give them to you."
Politicians do not normally end campaign events by giving away prizes, daytime television-style, or inviting attendees to come up to the stage and ask them for their signature. That kind of thing tends to make you look like a celebrity, and "celebrity" is a dirty word among politicians, second only, perhaps, to "politician." Witness this memorable John McCain spot from 2008:
As Dave Weigel pointed out in Slate on Monday, though, celebrity has become the defining element of Bachmann's campaign in Iowa so far.
Bachmann's "Meet Me in Ames" tour was more like the blitz you see before an election. Over one week in Iowa, before the straw poll, I saw her speak five times. A stage was set up outside, where cameras could get good, sun-bleached shots. Voters were urged to stand close to the stage or behind it—also for good shots. As "Promised Land" played, Bachmann's bus came into view; during the second playing she exited it. She spoke for roughly 20 minutes. When her speech ended, she stayed on the stage to shake hands, sign autographs, and get buttonholed in very short "thank-you-for-what-you're-doing" conversations. Only once did I see her break the format, with a town hall meeting on Monday that featured five audience questions.
Likewise, when I waited for an hour along with more than 100 others at the Iowa State Fair to hear Bachmann speak on Friday, she showed up 30 minutes late, spoke for four minutes (out of the allotted 30), and left in a mob of state troopers, press, and campaign staffers. All of that speaks to just how tightly Bachmann's handlers are managing all aspects of her candidate's image—stonewalling on unfavorable questions and turning her events into miniature rock shows (she entered the Electric Ballroom with Elvis blaring in the background and insisted that the lights be changed before she would come on stage). That might not be a terrible strategy; if the number of supporters who left bearing autographed blue T-shirts was any indication, the "celebrity" tag is part of Bachmann's appeal.
Back in Waterloo, Bachmann finished off her night with a quick press conference, which, it turned out, was mostly an excuse for the candidate to get a few more quick photos of her holding a copy of Sunday's Waterloo Courier, her Ames victory splashed across the front page. In case anyone had forgotten, she announced her name and current occupation—"My name's Michele Bachmann, and I'm running for president"—and took three quick questions from preselected reporters. Then she stood on the steps of the bus, holding up the newspaper triumphantly once more, just as she had done on stage at the beginning of her speech, and spoke as if the gaggle of flip-cams and boom mikes and pens-and-pads were just another fawning audience holding out for some red meat.
"Thank you! Thank you!" she said, and vanished into the bus.
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is running for president.
I have a magazine story that's up on the site today tracing Michele Bachmann's political evolution from a born-again high school student to a Minnesota state senator. The headline more or less captures the thrust of the piece: "Crazy? Like a Fox." You can call her a flake or a loon or a black helicopter Republican (as her Senate colleagues did behind her back), but Bachmann has a coherent worldview that her opponents would do well to understand—it's what's made her political rise possible.
One of the key elements of her ideology, as I've noted previously, was the work of theologian Francis Schaeffer, whose film How Should We Then Live Michele and her husband Marcus watched together as Winona State University undergrads. Schaeffer's central premise—one that Bachmann has explicitly endorsed and adopted for her own ends—is that American society has been beset by moral relativism. Rome fell because it was built on a lousy foundation—a flimsy belief system whose gods themselves were prone to vice, not virtue. A consequence of that was a willing submission to humanity's basest impulses. Speaking amid the ruins of Pompeii, Schaeffer notes that the city was in the midst of a "cult of the phallus" just before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.
Fear of moral relativism helps to explain why Bachmann embarked on her crusade to combat gay marriage and keep homosexuality out of Minnesota public schools with such fervor. Being gay wasn't just an individual sin—it was symptomatic of a society in disarray. But don't ask her about any of that now. Despite persistent questioning on the subject, she's still refusing to talk about her anti-gay views. Here's Michael Shear:
On ABC's "This Week," Mrs. Bachmann was asked about a statement she made in 2006 that being gay was the equivalent of "personal bondage, personal despair, and personal enslavement."
Mrs. Bachmann declined to say whether she still believed those words, saying only that "I am not running to be any person's judge. And I give — I ascribe dignity and honor to all people, no matter who they are. And that's how I view people."
On "Meet the Press," she gave a similar answer to the same question.
"I don't judge them. I don't judge them," she told host David Gregory. "I'm running for the presidency of the United States."
Bachmann's best articulation of her go-to response to questions about gay issues was on "Meet the Press," when she said, "these kind of questions aren't what people are concerned about right now." That's true—unless you're among the millions of LGBT Americans directly affected by these issues. Or, for that matter, unless you're Michele Bachmann, who has now signed two pledges in the last month committing her to oppose gay marriage, and who makes her leadership on the issue part of her stump speech. In essence, Bachmann is arguing that gay marriage is a really trivial issue that's also an existential threat to the core foundation of American society, the family. Got that?