The Bachmann/Clark race: money, technology, truth, falsehood and Garrison Keillor

“I think he’s brilliant. I think he’s a genius,” Rep. Michele Bachmann once said of local scribe and “Prairie Home Companion” host Garrison Keillor, as Hart Van Denburg of City Pages reminds us, and perhaps one can see why. Keillor’s sweetly satirical version of Minnesota, Lake Wobegon, has about as little resemblance of anything you’ll actually find in Minnesota as the world of Snoopy and Charlie Brown resemble Charles Schulz’s boyhood in St. Paul. But Lake Wobegon is loosely inspired by Marine on St. Croix, and, son of a gun, as it happens, that’s in the 6th Congressional District. Bachmann’s district.

In fact, the very district where Keillor is supporting Tarryl Clark in her bid for Bachmann’s seat. As reported by the Associated Press, Keillor wrote about Bachmann in a fundraising appeal for Clark, saying that having Bachmann in Congress is “embarrassing to me and a great many Minnesotans.” The story ends with a retort from Bachmann’s camp: “Bachmann spokesman Sergio Gor says Keillor should stick with what he knows best, making up stories.”

If PolitiFact is to be believed, Keillor isn’t alone in making up stories. They looked into a claim that Bachmann made that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “has been busy sticking the taxpayer with her $100,000 bar tab for alcohol on the military jets that she’s flying.” As you might suspect by the graphic they have chosen, showing a burning “truthometer” with its needle plunged into “pants on fire” territory, they didn’t find her claim credible. As entertaining as it might be to imagine Pelosi flying jets while hammered on top-shelf liquor, PolitiFact points out that the $100K Bachmann mentions is for all “in-flight services,” and that liquor was a small percentage of the total.

This got MinnPost’s Eric Black wondering why politicians don’t apologize and issue corrections when they make misstatements, as journalists are rumored to do. Black speaks to a Republican campaign tactician about Bachmann and hears this in response: “The staff’s attitude would be that the difference between what Bachmann said and what Politifact wrote was ‘so nuanced,’ and that 98 percent of the audience the campaign cares about (the voters of the district) don’t know that Bachmann ever said it or that Politifact ever wrote about it.” Now, it’s worth noting that this comment was not from a Bachmann representative; as is typical, they did not respond to requests for an interview. But nonetheless, this is an interesting use of the word “nuance” from a GOP tactician. After all, the Bachmann comment was false. It seems the “nuance” between true and untrue here is that voters either don’t know about the misstatement or are supposed to not care.

Bachmann was one of the women featured in a recent Newsweek story on the “Mama Grizzly” appellation — a self-appellation, really — that’s been popping up lately, thanks to Sarah Palin and the various female candidates she has endorsed. Author Lisa Miller lists the Mama Grizzlies among us, including Nikki Haley, Carly Fiorina and, of course, Bachmann. Although Sarah Palin selected this auto-branding to suggest a sort of dangerous and instinctual protectiveness toward children, Miller writes, “With few exceptions, the grizzlies have been disinterested in the issues and policies that their political opponents say are good for children — despite new numbers from the census showing that rising numbers of America’s children are poor.” “Policy debates about equal pay, parental leave, and day care hardly register with these grizzlies,” Miller says, and concludes with a bit of a zinger: “[I]n the wild, real mama grizzlies are known to be aggressive, irrational, and mean. The issues facing the country are complex, and bears are not.

She also gets a jab in about Bachmann standing for smaller government — except where women’s reproductive rights are concerned. But that isn’t the only place where Bachmann favors letting the government make decisions for Americans. As Minnesota Public Radio’s Annie Baxter reports, Bachmann is getting an award from U.S. English Inc. for her part in co-sponsoring the English Language Unity Act. Not familiar with the act? Here’s the text of it.

MinnPost’s Derek Wallbank discusses Bachmann’s fundraising in the third quarter, which has been — well, let’s let Wallbank say it: “I described Rep. Michele Bachmann’s second quarter fundraising haul of $1.7 million as staggering, which it was. Today, the day after the third quarter ended, I need a bigger word — because she more than doubled it.” A good chunk of this money is going into television ads, and Minnesota Independent has the latest: “Tarryl Clark: Just another hypocritical politician,” says a scornful female narrator, which seems to be the favored voice of political ads nowadays. What’s the complaint? “When Clark had the chance to vote on a 5% pay cut for herself, she voted no and then voted herself a 45% per diem increase.”

One wishes such ads would come with references — according to KSTP, Clark actually cut her per diem by 18 percent. A little bit of searching produces this: An AP story from 2007 about a bipartisan push to increase per diems from $66 to $96 a day in the Senate and from $66 to $77 in the House. “Because per diem hadn’t been raised in quite a while, and because it reflected inflation since it was last changed, I think it made sense,” the story quotes Clark as saying, and then identifies her reimbursements from that year as $26,894.29. The story also quotes Sen. Paul Koering, R-Fort Ripley, who says, “To me, that makes perfect sense.” At that time, Koering had been reimbursed $30,841.23 for the year.

Jason Hoppin of the Pioneer Press also discusses Bachmann and Clark’s enormously expensive campaigning, especially focusing on their innovative use of technology. For instance, Bachmann’s campaign produced a cell phone ad that was sent out to anyone within a mile of the State Fair that accused Clark of wanting to raise taxes on Fair food. (KSTP had this to say about Bachmann’s claims: “[T]he claims about Clark voting specifically to raise taxes on ‘corn dogs’ and ‘deep-fried bacon’ are not true.”) Hoppin’s story also discusses Clark’s use of the Internet; her campaign has produced a series of webpages, most of them sarcastic, such as this one, which lets you be insulted by Bachmann’s “Jim the election guy” (this intrepid reporter tried it and was shocked to discover that he had “got in a tickle fight with Eric Massa”).

So how is all this affecting the polls? Well, if Minnesotans voted today, Bachmann would lose to Barack Obama. At least, that’s the finding of a Humphrey Institute/MPR poll detailed by Hart Van Denburg of City Pages. Specifically, while opinions in Minnesota are about evenly split as to whether he’s doing a good job, Obama would still beat Bachmann in a presidential race by 20 points. But what about Tim Pawlenty, who actually wants to run against Obama? Obama wins by 9 points. So what have we learned? Obama should run against Bachmann in Lake Wobegon.

In arts: Stuff About Minneapolis photographs a rather unusual piece of public art near 10th Avenue and 3rd Street South — an angry-looking wizard emerging from a grated window. The blog’s author, Paul Merrill, seems nonplussed by the art: “I wept quietly for a moment, while muttering ‘Please don’t kill me.’ After fifteen or twenty minutes I was able to compose myself, take a picture, and then I ran like hell.”

In sports: There is a large billboard near the new Twin stadium promoting a health care company, which will be visible from the field. Do the Twins like this? “Do we like it? No, we don’t,” Twins president Dave St. Peter tells WCCO’s Heather Brown.

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Comments (18)

  1. Submitted by Mitch Anderson on 10/01/2010 - 11:26 am.

    Ironic that Bachmann’s spokester tells Keillor to stick to making up stories, since too often that’s what the congresswoman herself does.

  2. Submitted by John Olson on 10/01/2010 - 11:38 am.

    I’m surprised you didn’t catch the story about Wally the Beerman getting busted for selling to a minor at the Twins game.

  3. Submitted by Norman Larson on 10/01/2010 - 12:09 pm.

    According to a TV commercial, Michele Bachmann wants to wean people off of Social Security. Does she also want to wean members of Congress off of their cushy pensions?

  4. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/01/2010 - 12:34 pm.

    Say bunny?

    I’m sure that Rep. Bachmann is stinging from the caustic observations of a man like Garrison Keillor…talk about gravitas; the man’s a GIANT!

    I do hope he’s not *too* awfully embarrassed, you know, like he was the last time the entire country embarrassed him and he packed up his duffle bag and shuffled off to Norway.

  5. Submitted by Norman Larson on 10/01/2010 - 01:43 pm.

    Thomas: Shuffled off to Norway? I thought he went to Denmark to be with a new wife, from whom, I think,he is now divorced. Is he on wife No. 3?

  6. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/01/2010 - 01:43 pm.

    Hannah, that’s actually a very good question.

    Of course, if Congress cuts their cushy pensions, it’s only fair that all federal employees do the same.

    I’ll ask Rep. Bachmann about it next time I speak with her.

  7. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 10/01/2010 - 03:01 pm.

    Perhaps Garrison Keillor may be an acquired taste. Although by most measures I’m aware of he is quite a successful author and entertainer. I imagine the fact that *his* website remains up and running might be another measure of success as well…. Tom?

  8. Submitted by Cecil North on 10/01/2010 - 03:32 pm.

    “[I]n the wild, real mama grizzlies are known to be aggressive, irrational, and mean. The issues facing the country are complex, and bears are not.”

    That shouldn’t come as a surprise since the average size of a grizzly bear brain is considerably less than that of a new-born human infant, and about 17% the size of most adult human brains.


    Come to think of it, Bachmann’s pretty representative of the mama grizzly species, aka arctos horribilus.

  9. Submitted by Robert Langford on 10/01/2010 - 06:29 pm.

    I am a Minnesotan who truly is truly ashamed of Bachmann. Garrison speaks for me, and often, to me. He is absolutely right on this one, as he is on so many opinions he share about life and how we live it. Were that the district shared his reality!

  10. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 10/01/2010 - 08:32 pm.

    “Perhaps Garrison Keillor may be an acquired taste. Although by most measures I’m aware of he is quite a successful author and entertainer. I imagine the fact that *his* website remains up and running might be another measure of success as well…. Tom?”

    Insert “Ann Coulter” for Garrison Keillor. Dick?

  11. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 10/01/2010 - 09:38 pm.

    I’m not sure that using Sen. Koering as a plug for a per diem increases is such a good example since he (sadly), along with Sen. Clark, will not be returning to the Senate in 2011.

  12. Submitted by Jane Cracraft on 10/01/2010 - 11:36 pm.

    That wizard story is great. Love the pithy post on that guy’s blog.

  13. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 10/02/2010 - 09:06 am.

    The most depressing thing I’ve read in years: Our Republican friends think it’s perfectly OK to make things up when talking about your opponent and put bold faced lies in your campaign commercials because 98% of the public doesn’t know the difference?

    If this is the way the best Republican friends of our wealthy business people are looking at the world, its no wonder our economy is in the toilet. In the real world, there’s a word for people who operate by such attitudes, they’re called con men, flim-flam artists, scammers, Ponzi schemers, “sinners” etc. They cost the public billions of dollars every year, but our Republican friends seem to think what those criminals are doing is completely acceptable and their right to do it even “sacred.”

    When, exactly, was it that chasing after making and keeping more money and wealth became the standard by which we measure the rightness or wrongness of all things? When was it that total dishonesty was perfectly acceptable if not to be celebrated (as long, of course, as you’re wealthy and you’re winning)?

    I weep for our state and our nation when one political party proudly and freely admits that we can’t (and shouldn’t) trust them nor believe a word they say and yet they still have substantial public support.

  14. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 10/02/2010 - 02:34 pm.

    Not you silly, a different Tom. There is a sequence of comments. I was not aware of yours being above #7. Enjoy the beautiful weekend..

  15. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 10/02/2010 - 04:47 pm.

    Examples of the bald-faced lies please? And what exactly is the most depressing thing that you’ve read in years? The unemployment rate, the fact that Congress adjourned before dealing with their budget obligations, the fact that Congress has left the country in limbo as to next year’s tax plans, etc., etc.,…

  16. Submitted by JA Laughlin on 10/02/2010 - 08:12 pm.

    “…Lake Wobegon is loosely inspired by Marine on St. Croix…”

    Actually, Lake Wobegon was inspired by Keillor’s time in Central Minnesota–and he has written that Freeport, MN and surrounding towns in Stearns County were the inspiration for Lake Wobegon:

    Having grown up in Stearns County, and having also spent time in Marine-on-St. Croix, I can say unequivocally that Marine-on-St. Croix is nothing like Freeport and its neighbors!

  17. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 10/02/2010 - 08:31 pm.


    Naturally, the outlook is horrible, because then government won’t be there to save us.

    Could it possibly be that gridlock will actually be good. Perhaps fewer things passed will mean a more stable business environment. Wait, that’s just crazy talk, sorry.

  18. Submitted by Roy Everson on 10/04/2010 - 02:34 am.

    There is nothing new about Republicans living off the misinformation swallowed by huge numbers of their voters. Recall WMD in Iraq and the Saddam “connection” to 9-11 believed by a large minority in 2004— long after their respective refutations. Witness the huge numbers who believe the president is a non-American Muslim with sympathy towards America’s enemies.

    The Bachmann team is simply playing from the same script.

    The party simply cannot function anymore without large numbers of their voters beliving that green is red and up is down.

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