Report: Michele Bachmann Harbors 'Unrivaled Extremism'

Jun 15, 2011
Originally published on June 16, 2011 8:41 am

Now that she has emerged a brighter rising star in the political firmament after Monday's Republican presidential debate, expect Rep. Michele Bachmann's past to undergo greater scrutiny and become the target of more journalistic profiles, some fairly negative.

The Daily Beast offers up one headlined: "Michele Bachmann's Unrivaled Extremism" by writer Michelle Goldberg.

"Unrivaled extremism" seems, well, somewhat extreme since the piece doesn't really support the headline that the congresswoman from Minnesota has no rivals in extremism.

But what the piece does provide are rich details on Bachmann's background that are probably unknown to most people, useful facts that color her as an evangelical Christian whose anti-gay views and actions have upset many people generally including gays in her own family circle as well as other relatives.

An excerpt:

Belief is the key to understanding Michele Bachmann, who announced her presidential candidacy during Monday's Republican debate. Her impressive performance, which catapulted her close to the front of the presidential pack, surprised some, who perhaps expected her to be as inarticulate as Sarah Palin, to whom she's often compared. But in Minnesota, even those who don't like her politics say she shouldn't be underestimated. "The fact that she's not a heavy lifter, the fact that she's relatively unconcerned about the substance of legislation, does not mean that she's not crafty, that she's not intelligent and she's not fast," says former Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson, a Republican. Her ideological radicalism should not be mistaken for stupidity.

On Monday, Bachmann didn't talk a lot about her religion. She didn't have to—she knows how to signal it in ways that go right over secular heads. In criticizing Obama's Libya policy, for example, she said, "We are the head and not the tail." The phrase comes from Deuteronomy 28:13: "The Lord will make you the head and not the tail." As Rachel Tabachnick has reported, it's often used in theocratic circles to explain why Christians have an obligation to rule.

Indeed, no other candidate in the race is so completely a product of the evangelical right as Bachmann; she could easily become the Christian conservative alternative to the comparatively moderate Mormon Mitt Romney. "Michele Bachmann's a complete package," says Ralph Reed, the former Christian Coalition wunderkind who now runs the Faith and Freedom Coalition. "She's got charisma, she's got an authentic faith testimony, she's a proven fighter for conservative values, and she's well known." She's also great at raising money—in the 2010 cycle, she amassed a record $13.2 million in donations. (Bachmann's office didn't respond to requests for comment.)

If you're predisposed to dislike Bachmann, the piece will provide plenty of justification for your view. Even if you're not predisposed, you may come to dislike her after it.

Some of her many supporters, on the other hand, are likely to see the piece in a news outlet called The Daily Beast as, well, the work of the devil. It does have "beast" in its name, after all, as in "mark of the beast."

I once heard a veteran journalist who served many years as a writing coach for younger reporters say that every good news feature story makes an argument. If that's so, The Daily Beast argument appears to be that Bachmann is a religious zealot who makes a good first appearance.

It's definitely worth a read because of the reporting and details in it. I predict it will prove difficult for many people to come away feeling neutral about her or the piece after reading it.

Some other profiles of Bachmann, done before the debate, are worth reading and contrasting with The Daily Beast piece. Here are just two: NPR's Ari Shapiro did a profile for our series "The Spark," concise political biographies of the current crop of GOP presidential candidates.

Also, Kim Ode, writing for the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 2007, produced a relatively straight-ahead profile of Bachmann.

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