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What keeps fueling Michele Bachmann’s inflammatory rhetoric?

Rep. Michele Bachmann’s speech at the Independence Institute in Denver.

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann keeps doing that thing she does. One day it’s a national talk show, the next it’s a speech at some event, far from Minnesota. The provocative comments tumble from her mouth and into headlines across the country.

Rep. Michele Bachmann
Rep. Michele Bachmann

The most recent examples of Bachmann’s flaming oratory came at a Monday night speech in Denver where the Republican congresswoman said people should “make a covenant, slit our wrists, be blood brothers” in fighting against any Democratic efforts to reform health care. “… Right now we are looking at reaching down the throat and ripping the guts out of freedom in this country.” 

“Let me be on record as saying, ‘I’m opposed to slitting wrists,’ ” said state Sen. Tarryl Clark of St. Cloud. She hopes to be the Democratic candidate running against Bachmann in the 6th Congressional District 14 months from now.

Dr. Maureen Reed of Grant, another Democrat in the race against Bachmann, also is opposed to wrist-slitting.  She said she does not ask even her most ardent supporters to “make a covenant or slit wrists” in the effort to beat Bachmann.

“I ask them to volunteer, I ask them to give money to the campaign,” she said.

Opponents say she promotes fear
How do Bachmann’s words play in the 6th?

“She promotes fear and divisiveness,” said Clark, who believes that Bachmann is “more interested in talk show ratings than the needs of the people in the 6th District.”

Dr. Maureen Reed
Dr. Maureen Reed

Reed agrees with that and takes it several steps farther.

“Her language is very extremist,” Reed said. “It strikes fear in people and divides us. No big problem ever got better when people are terrified. I believe public officials should be held to a high standard. The bigger the problem, the more they should dial down the rhetoric. When you heighten fear, you paralyze people. Nothing happens.”

But why does she keep doing it?  After all, she almost buried her political career a year ago when, on national television, she questioned the patriotism of many of her congressional colleagues?  Didn’t she learn a lesson from that exercise?

Supporters of both Reed and Bachmann suspect that the method to her seeming verbal madness is to raise money. She now does have a national base, with financial support coming from extreme conservatives around the country. Either Democrat she faces, Reed or Clark, will have to be in a position to reach outside the district to raise money in an effort to keep up with Bachmann.

Tom Horner, a former Republican state legislator and now a political commentator with strong Republican leanings, suggests there’s more to it than money.

A conservative Wellstone?
“If you push the comparison, you can say she’s not dissimilar to Paul Wellstone,” Horner said. “Paul’s approach was more grass roots. But his plan was to be the spokesman of the liberal left nationally while, at the same time, gaining the respect of Minnesotans because they knew where he stood.”

Horner does say that Bachmann has pushed the rhetoric beyond Wellstone. She has to push it, he said, because the media have changed.

“With talk radio and talk television, you have to be provocative,” Horner said, adding that she’s become the perfect television guest. “An attractive female who is provocative.”

State Sen. Tarryl Clark
State Sen. Tarryl Clark

But he also said there are “core principles” at the root of her comments.

“I do believe that her concern that we’re headed toward socialism is heartfelt,” he said.

Horner suspects that Bachmann believes that her flaming words on national stages gives her influence she wouldn’t otherwise have.

“As a junior member of Congress in the minority from a district in the middle of Minnesota, how else can she have national influence?” Horner asked.

But he also said she’s playing a high-risk game.

“Last time around, if they [the Democrats] had a better candidate [than El Tinklenberg] and if there had not been an Independence Party candidate named Anderson, she would have been in trouble,” Horner said. “This go-around there are two formidable candidates — and maybe because there are two, that’s what saves her again.”

The 6th District does pose problems for Democrats. Despite substantial economic problems, there’s a distrust of government that borders on a dislike of government, said Horner.

There may be many voters who are embarrassed by the notoriety Bachmann is bringing to them, Horner said.  “But they say, ‘I can’t vote for a Democrat, so I’ll vote for an Independent named Anderson,’ ” he said.

He believes that the only way to defeat Bachmann is to make her the issue.

“It’s not conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican or Independent, it’s her,” he said.

For much of the last campaign, Tinklenberg seemed reluctant to go that way. He kept pushing his own moderate credentials as well as his political resume.  It wasn’t until campaign’s end, when Bachmann made herself the issue, that Tinklenberg gained ground.

Clark, Reed making Bachmann herself the key issue
Both Clark and Reed seem to understand that the issue is Bachmann. Both pound home their message that while the congresswoman from Stillwater brings attention to herself on the national circuit, the needs of the 6th are not being looked after in Washington.

Both also note that whoever runs against Bachmann will have to appeal not only to Democrats but independents and disgruntled Republicans as well.

(At this point, it’s unclear just what the Independence Party will do. In last November’s race, the party officially endorsed Tinklenberg, the Democratic nominee, but that left the actual IP ballot spot open for Bob Anderson, who grabbed 10 percent of the vote, despite seldom leaving home during the campaign.)

It’s clear that the party insiders, such as they are in the 6th, want Clark. The list of labor unions that already have endorsed her is long.

“I’m not even getting to opportunity to screen with key groups,” said Reed. “I’ve always thought that this was the party of the big tent, a party that believed in openness and fairness. I’ve always thought voters are better served with an open process.”

Reed insists she will still try mightily to garner DFL endorsement, which will not be easy, given her earlier run as an Independence Party candidate for lieutenant governor in 2006. (DFLers tend to resent IPers, with many believing the third party has kept the governor’s mansion in the hands of Republicans.)

But, she does not rule out the possibility that she’ll run in a DFL primary if she does not win endorsement.

“Like Yogi Berra said, ‘Things are really difficult to predict, especially the future.’ ”

Clark has made it clear that it’s the endorsement route only for her.  If she does not get endorsement, she said she will run again for her Senate seat.

In fact, Clark’s step into the race is a high-risk venture. In the state Senate, she had been seen as among the party’s young, rising stars and was the assistant majority leader. If she wins endorsement but loses to Bachmann, her political career would seemingly be over at the age of 48.

And if she is endorsed, she knows the campaign against Bachmann will be fierce — and probably very ugly.

“They [the Bachmann supporters] will do whatever they can to make people afraid,” she said. “They’ll make things up about me, whatever. So my goal is to get people to know me. I’m looking at every voter in the district as a potential supporter.”

Both Reed and Clark already appear to be better organized than Tinklenberg was throughout most of his campaign. Both claim to be centrists. Both clearly are willing to work hard and long.  Both claim they’ll able to raise money from outside the district, which will be necessary, given Bachmann’s national fundraising base.

“I’m not seeking a national race,” said Clark, “but she already has made it national.”

And it doesn’t appear that Bachmann is going to become media-shy anytime soon.

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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Comments (31)

  1. Submitted by John Roach on 09/03/2009 - 10:51 am.

    Of course it’s money.

    Bachmann taps into the extremist market the same way Glenn Beck does. She raises nearly three times the amount of money that the average congressperson does, much of it from individual contributions.

    Most of that money does not come from the 6th district. Bachmann maintains a publicity and fundraising staff that is much larger than average and it is national in scope.

    She’s not that different from a typical televangelist; she alternates her extreme, kooky and emotional messaging with fundraising appeals. It all looks very homey, but it is in fact a business.

  2. Submitted by Joel Rosenberg on 09/03/2009 - 11:20 am.

    No question: Bachmann is deliberately provocative, and that draws all kinds of ink. She’s also capable of almost Bidenesque gaffes, and of course she takes into consideration the guarantee that her gaffes will energize both her supporters, who see the double standard, and her opponents, who either don’t see it or don’t care.

    But, like Wellstone did, she obviously understands the benefit of a high profile — she did when she turned the utter sideshow of fighting against SSM in Minnesota* when she was in the MN lege, and she does now as a marginalized minority Congresscritter.

    Disclosure: I’m apparently going to be sharing a stage with her on the 12th.

    * Given Minnesota law and politics, and the lack of any of the pro-SSM organizations pushing it in the courts, during her time in the lege it was an almost comically peripheral issue — but it is one that she got a lot of attention for, and “won” on. Sure enough, after the efforts of Bachmann, we don’t have SSM in Minnesota, just as we wouldn’t have had anyway.

  3. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 09/03/2009 - 11:33 am.

    A prediction: When Sarah Palin doesn’t win the GOP nod for president in 2012, she will split from the party and strip away a large number of the far right and deeply conservative Christian folks who will support her in a third party run for President.

    Michelle Bachmann will make the perfect Vice Presidential candidate for Palin. Together, they will likely pick up the votes of most of the “true believers” who had previously called themselves Republicans.

    The only “Republicans” left will be those who can’t stomach women in positions of leadership (although a great many of those seem already to have let their physical attraction to Ms. Palin overcome that obstacle).

  4. Submitted by Hénock Gugsa on 09/03/2009 - 11:49 am.

    Somebody, please explain to me … isn’t Mrs. Bachmann supposed to be first and last a “fine, upstanding” Christian woman? What is she doing espousing pagan practices of wrist slitting and such? What next … burning people on a pyre for thought enforcement?

    I say, Mrs. Bachmann … as long as we are on this train of madness, when are you going to ask us to stick our fingers into power outlets?
    I will volunteer for that, but I’m also a gentleman. I say, lady, you first!

  5. Submitted by John Olson on 09/03/2009 - 12:01 pm.

    In short, Bachmann hates the mainstream media, but loves the coverage that she gets from them.

    The media knows from experience that she is typically one quote away from increasing their own web traffic significantly in any given newscycle.

    Both sides get what they really want–more attention and money.

  6. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/03/2009 - 12:12 pm.

    Judging from the absolutely hysterical comments one usually finds appended to any Bachmann story, one might conclude that Michele’s rhetoric is fueled by a tertiary byproduct of liberals suffering from Bachmann derangement syndrome.


  7. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 09/03/2009 - 12:16 pm.

    Michele Bachmann is first and foremost a nut. She attracts other nuts and says nutty things that make the nuts happy. She offers nothing – zero – in the way of legitimate government proposals – even conservative ones.

    I’m convinced Rome wasn’t torn a part by debauchery. It was torn a part because the debauchery attracted the nuts. Slitting wrists to stop health care? Health care – a basic right enjoyed by people in almost all other countries enjoy is “the end of freedom as we know it.” Health care for all is “slavery?”

    Nut, nut, nut!

  8. Submitted by Joe Johnson on 09/03/2009 - 12:28 pm.

    A nut that wins elections. So at worst she is a better politician than Hatch, Entenza, Marty, Tinkel, and Wetterling. Much like the Yankees everyone hates a winner.

  9. Submitted by Alonza Fronczak on 09/03/2009 - 12:34 pm.

    She also wanted us to fast and pray for non-healthcare reform during this the time of Ramadan (apparently an attempt to get Muslim support but failed to realize that the meaning behind Ramadan is to strengthen one’s self-discipline, as well as, remind people of the experience of those less fortunate than themselves.)

  10. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 09/03/2009 - 12:37 pm.


    Nice to see you admit she is a nut.

  11. Submitted by Peter Soulen on 09/03/2009 - 12:40 pm.

    We can talk about MB endlessly but I think it’s her supporter constituents who deserve some “credit” here too. That district has some pretty strange looking boundaries and they encompass the people who for better or worse, put MB in office.

    I want to be able to give these folks the benefit of the doubt and believe that they are smart and informed and that they support MB for her positions, but so many of those positions are all about protecting wealth and privilege. MB loves to go on about protecting liberty and freedom and her people love to hear it, but what does that really mean? Does her average supporter define liberty and freedom only as; “not having to pay taxes for anything that does not directly benefit me”? Sorry, but it sure looks that way…

    I have to say that in many instances it looks like sheer cussedness on the part of her supporters – they love her because liberals are so disgusted by her. It’s like purposely seeding your lawn with dandelions because you know your neighbor hates them.

    Again, MB is many things to many people, but she is not a natural phenomenon. People voted her into the position she is in. I want more answers from these people because I get enough BS from MB. Why do these folks keep voting for her?

  12. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 09/03/2009 - 01:17 pm.

    Good points.
    Bachmann is doing what got her elected — the fact that it may eventually come back to bite her is not going to make her change now.
    As you imply, the real irrationality is on the part of those who vote for someone whose policies will NOT benefit them in the long run (although fortunately there’s little chance that she will have any effect on legislation).

    Which leads to Paul Wellstone–
    He quickly learned that if he wanted to have any real effect, he’d have to move into the mainstream. So, while remaining a progressive voice, he work (even across party lines) with colleagues to get legislation passed.

    And he didn’t tell lies.

  13. Submitted by Dave Kopesky on 09/03/2009 - 01:35 pm.

    Like other’s of her right-wing ilk she doesn’t let facts get in the way of a good sound byte. Either she is not very bright or her misstatements are knowing attempts calculated to use fabrications to stir up the other side. In her Denver speech she was quoted about how much higher tax burdens are than they were in 1950. Federal tax rates in 1950 STARTED at 20% and went up to 91%.

    As Obama’s popularity inevitably sinks like a stone with the economic news, right-wing demagoguery on health care and no good options in Afghanistan we are likely looking at a resurgence of the right-wing hijacked GOP in the coming election. I am sure there are others like me that had held out some hope that moderate (e.g. younger Ramstad, Durenburger, Carlson type) elements would take back the state GOP. It sure doesn’t look likely now.

  14. Submitted by Matt Linngren on 09/03/2009 - 03:08 pm.

    Wouldn’t it be great if Michele garnered embarrassingly huge piles of money from all across the country… and still lost? Tarryl’s the best chance the 6th CD has for sanity and good representation in DC – hope the voters don’t blow it (again!).

  15. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 09/03/2009 - 03:18 pm.

    I’m one of those voters in the 6th, Matt. We will decide in the primaries who the challenger(s?) will be, and then we will decide if Ms. Bachmann will contine on as our representaive in Congress.

  16. Submitted by Karl Bremer on 09/03/2009 - 03:47 pm.

    I’ve been writing about Michele Bachmann’s extremist views for a decade, since before she was elected to the State Senate in 2000: her religious extremism, her extremist voting record, her extremist homophobic rants, her extreme lying and hypocrisy, her unethical bahavior and abuse of public office, her campaign money collected from extremists. You can look it up.

    The mainstream local media, for the most part, has been nonresponsive. You can look that up too. It’s a major reason why Bachmann is in office today.

    Nice of you to catch up after all these years. Maybe we can lance this festering boil from our political body yet.

  17. Submitted by dan buechler on 09/03/2009 - 06:41 pm.

    Now honestly guys both righties and lefties how many of you bothered to watch the first three minutes of her speech? I did and part of me found it quite moving but then I guess I’m not filled with hate and am often seeking to know more. Sometimes I view a candidate through my mother’s eyes (may she rest in peace) and wonder would my mother, a nurse, a moderate vote for this person? Now that I’ve patted myself on the back I want you guys to go to the gopher bar or some other coney place and enjoy yourselves! Life is to be lived!!

  18. Submitted by Bob Anderson on 09/03/2009 - 07:44 pm.

    Doug, I did leave home during the campaign it was the media that did not follow me. MPR invited me to the last debate and then uninvited me, which nobody really can believe or understand. I only became a story on election night because everyone was wrong on predicting my over 10% showing. I attended 10 forums with El and Congresswoman Bachmann would only participate in 3. The media should have called her out on this lack of participation and maybe she could have been exposed. I think Tom Horner is wrong to say this is not a conservative, liberal or Independent issue. Congresswoman Bachmann clearly has the capability of defeating herself, but the 6th district is the most conservative district in the state and the Dems are at a disadvantage to start with. I received 10% because I am a right leaning Independent and I line up with Bachmann on the issues without the embarrassing fear mongering rhetoric. I will say the Anderson name doesn’t hurt either.

  19. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 09/03/2009 - 08:10 pm.

    Let us not forget, as well, that the underlying, make-or-break issue in the 6th district is abortion. No matter how crazy Mickey becomes, as long as she’s against abortion, she’ll beat even the most conservative pro-choice candidate. Watch and see.

  20. Submitted by dan buechler on 09/03/2009 - 08:30 pm.

    Luther and Sirkoski served for a long time in this district. Everyone obsesses about today. Keep running candidates preferably those with a chance at winning and you’ll improve your odds.

  21. Submitted by Aubrey Immelman on 09/03/2009 - 08:38 pm.

    Henock Gugsa writes, “Somebody, please explain to me … isn’t Mrs. Bachmann supposed to be first and last a ‘fine, upstanding’ Christian woman?”

    That’s the public image she’s crafted for herself, but here’s the truth:

    As for Bachmann’s wrist-slitting rhetoric, here’s some thoughts:

    On the face of it, Bachmann’s rhetoric is deeply disturbing. Although she has frequently made public utterances indicative of political paranoia (“reeducation camps,” “armed and dangerous,” census noncompliance), I do not recall any of her speeches so laced with violent and sadistic imagery:

    — “slit our wrists”
    — “reaching down the throat and ripping the guts out”
    — “break the arms”

    In his Daily Kos diary, long-time Bachmann watcher Bill Prendergast offers to “play amateur psychologist” in an attempt to explain why Bachmann’s “slit our wrists” remark — which he characterizes as a “Freudian slip” — should disturb voters.

    Prendergast concludes that Bachmann’s choice of words contained an “unconscious slip” consonant with her “apocalyptic world view,” “revealing her feelings about ‘death’ as a necessary consequence of opposing the Obama administration” — a belief that “sooner or later, Americans will be fighting each other to the death for control of the country, and that it is necessary for conservatives to embrace that possibility to the point of suicidal opposition.”

    I will not attempt to psychoanalyze Rep. Bachmann here; suffice it to say, in the words of MSNBC talk show host Ed Schultz, that Bachmann’s latest outrage is real “psycho talk.”

    Full report with links and embedded video:

  22. Submitted by Bruce Anderson on 09/03/2009 - 09:02 pm.

    Bachmann worried we’re headed for socialism? I don’t think so. I have not heard a word from her about wanting to reverse the socialism the democrats and republicans have created over the last 70-100 years.

    And Doug, let me help you with some facts about Bob Anderson. He was in all ten of the candidate forums and debates in 2008. Bachmann honored the voters with her presence only three times.

    Even if it were true that he seldom left home and still got 10%, I’d say that would cast a lot more negatively on the democrat and republican than on Bob Anderson.

    The democrat and republican had 3-4 million handed over to them by Washington D.C and yet neither could get a majority of support.

    Gotta love democracy.

  23. Submitted by Jim Spensley on 09/03/2009 - 09:17 pm.

    Rep. Bachmann is a speech reader, not even the originator of the tripe. She embodies the empty-headed “true believer” identified by Studs Terkel. Left on her own, she stumbles into unusual speech patterns, makes many misstatements, and shows her far-out beliefs.

  24. Submitted by Jeff Cagle on 09/03/2009 - 10:31 pm.

    Bachmann is mysteriously media shy when it comes to addressing real Minnesota reporters asking real questions. What a shame.

  25. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 09/04/2009 - 06:53 am.

    “Fascism is a system of political authority and social order intended to reinforce the unity, energy, and purity of communities in which liberal democracy stands accused of producing division and decline.”

    Historian of fascism Robert O. Paxton, quoted by Sara Robinson in her article “Fascist America: Are We There Yet?” (, 08/06/2009)

    “At this late stage,” says Ms. Robinson in her discussion of Rick Perlstein’s writings, the Republican Party is “blatantly racist, sexist, repressed, exclusionary, and permanently addicted to the politics of fear and rage. Worse: it doesn’t have a moment’s shame about it. No apologies, to anyone. These same narrative threads have woven their way through every fascist movement in history.”

    I know there are Republicans who do not for a moment buy into their party’s strange philosophy and tactics as practiced by Michelle B. et al. and hope they will speak loudly against them.

  26. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 09/04/2009 - 07:50 am.

    Jonestown in Bachmanville?

    I wonder if this woman knows at this point where she may be going…for when overt power, abuse of power is raised to its zenith plus fortified by a flock of followers ‘blinded by the light’, where is it all headed?

    Slitting one’s wrists for the sake of quasi-religious/political devotion? Good to remember “religio” means to bind.

    Whether loose rhetoric or whatever, “cutting one’s wrists” and other attendant, wild proclamations, smells of the historic Jones and the ‘kool-aid test’; in another form?

    All I can say is… you’ve come a long way baby and it’s getting hot as hell in Bachmanville.

  27. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 09/04/2009 - 08:40 am.


    2nd paragraph should read…

    “I wonder if this woman even knows at this point where she may be going…for overt power, abuse of power, binds the mind with a sense of destiny. That’s the power of the absurd raised to its zenith plus refortified by a flock of followers ‘blinded by the light.”

    sorry about that…

  28. Submitted by dan buechler on 09/04/2009 - 09:25 am.

    I know I am at risk for alienating all of you out there but listen to the first 4 minutes of her speech. Her humble beginnings mirror those of Obama i.e. her single mother, working young, parenthood, public service. Not that I would vote for her but you gotta admit she has some rock star quality just like Obama.

  29. Submitted by David Day on 09/04/2009 - 10:32 am.

    Believing in the theory that you attack where your opponent is viewed to be unassailable, (Yes it is Rove-ian), I am surprised that no one has considered Ms. Bachmann’s patriotism in a thoughtful way. I agreed with mayor Michael Bloomberg when he said that criticizing your government is an act of patriotism; as far as it goes. Responsible criticism over specific policies is healthy. Trying to foster the citizenry’s cynicism about there government is something else. It is sedition. My favorite Republican of all time described our government as being: “Of the people…By the people…and For the people”. our Constitution begins with: “We the people”. What Michele Bachmann and her ilk are doing is damaging to the people and damaging to their government. It is not patriotic. She should be called out on this over and over again.

  30. Submitted by John Olson on 09/04/2009 - 05:48 pm.

    Dan: The 6th congressional district of Gerry Sikorski and Bill Luther was laid out very, very differently from what it is today.

    I would also argue that the 2nd district is the most conservative; the DFL has struggled to put strong opposition against John Kline and it’s hard to see any change coming soon.

  31. Submitted by dan buechler on 09/05/2009 - 04:15 pm.

    Yes districts are laid out differently every 10 years and yes some politics is involved. Especially with the fast growing suburbs. But the base 60% has to be the same and then we hear about the power of incumbency.

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