I had never met Michele Bachmann, and when I mentioned to liberal friends that I was going to interview her, the response was universal: “Idiot,” “right-wing nut job,” “buffoon,” “moron” — and those were the printable comments.
Google her name and the amount of vicious and vulgar material that pops up is stunning. Wading through it is an eye-opener, and the level of animus directed at the Republican from Minnesota’s Sixth Congressional District should trouble thoughtful critics of Bachmann.
I know some of her past comments have gotten her into trouble — the episode with Chris Matthews on “Hardball,” when she called Barack Obama “anti-American,” being the most egregious. (She later said it was a “misstatement” and took back the comment.)
But I found her to be passionate about her beliefs. I also found her to be straightforward, intelligent, humble and gregarious — at one point, she called herself “a lovable little fuzz ball.”
I was interested in talking with her about the issues of the day. So I asked her about the upcoming terrorism trials in New York (“an absolutely terrible idea”), the looming crisis with Iran (“they’ve perceived signals of weakness coming from the United States”) and the health-care debate (“big-government socialism”). And along the way, she described how her political views developed, why she outrages liberals and what she reads about today.
What follows are excerpts — unvarnished Bachmann — from our conversation, organized by topics.
We met at the University Club in St. Paul on Dec. 1, the morning of President Obama’s speech announcing that he would be sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. I asked her if she thought that was a wise move. Here’s what she said:
“The president was adamant earlier this year, stating this is a ‘war of necessity,’ this is the war we have to win. In Iraq, we saw a tremendous turn following the surge. And now, in Afghanistan, August was one of our bloodiest months. September was even worse. Things were going down hill very quickly. I think it surprised a lot of people that the president didn’t act sooner when things were going so badly.
“I just read an article by [classicist and military historian] Victor Davis Hanson, who I think is a brilliant man, on how the West fights wars. He wrote that in the West, we tend to want to do things very quickly. But the enemy we are fighting doesn’t have a quick timeline. They view things in terms of generations. …I don’t know that the American people have bought into the long view of war. They know that they don’t want to have terrorists succeed — we see that in the Fort Hood killings, and the evidence seems to indicate that it was a terrorist act. That, and the fact that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is being brought to New York for trial — all of these things underscore the necessity of finding out exactly what is President Obama’s view of terrorism.”
On bringing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to New York for a criminal trial in civilian court:
“I think it is terrible, an absolutely terrible idea. I think the president is entirely wrong, and I think he is putting our nation at risk, I think he is putting the people at risk. Worse, he is blurring the lines between a military conflict and a criminal trial. If we’re serious about terrorists, then we need to act in a military fashion and defeat them. If this is a criminal effort, then it really makes no sense for us to be involved militarily.”
On U.S. policy toward Iran, which recently approved construction of 10 new uranium-enrichment facilities:
“I think we are very late in addressing the Iranian issue, and the Iranian threat. Iran obviously doesn’t fear the West. It doesn’t fear the United States. I think they’ve perceived signals of weakness coming from the United States. At this point, we have difficult options, as does the state of Israel. Very difficult options. … I think that quite a long time ago the U.S. should have intervened with economic sanctions that were worldwide. … Tehran has said repeatedly that the Holocaust never happened, while, at the same time, it is threatening a holocaust against Israel. And not only Israel. Iran has also made threats against the United States. The issue ultimately is the safety of our nation, and Iran poses a threat to that security.”
On the health-care legislation before Congress:
“Shortly after the president was elected, he came to a private, closed-door meeting — no media present — down in the basement of the Capitol building to meet with House Republicans. It’s the one and only time he’s done that. During the course of the hour he was with us, and in answer to a question, the president said to us that he would prefer to be a one-term president and achieve his agenda rather than being a two-term president and not achieving his agenda. I think he recognized that there may be a very high political price to pay [for health-care reform], but I don’t think he cares. This will be the federal government taking over 18 percent of the economy.”
On why she elicits so much outrage and loathing among liberals:
“I don’t know. I’m a lovable little fuzz ball! I have no idea what they would have to fear. I guess you would have to ask them; they would have the better answer to your question. I am doing my job. That’s what I was elected to do. I don’t fear the left, and maybe that’s part of the loathing that they feel toward me. I’m not afraid to speak out on conservative positions and on issues. We’re a deep-blue state, we’re a strong liberal, Democrat state.”
On growing up in a family of Democrats and why she changed her views:
“My [parents] were FDR Democrats, and then Hubert Humphrey Democrats. We were all very proud to be Democrats. As a matter of fact, my husband and I met while we were working on Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign. We were so proud of Walter Mondale, and so proud that he was going to be the vice president from Minnesota. … But we were so profoundly disappointed when we saw how the country was negatively impacted by the Democrat administration, by the decisions that were made. After that, I voted Republican in the next presidential election. …
“It was the liberal policies that affected the country so negatively. That’s what impacted me. To see how unemployment shot up, how inflation went through the roof, the interest rates that people were paying, lines for gasoline. When I saw how profoundly the country was impacted, I saw that all of these ideas that were spouted in high school classes, and in college classes — they may have looked good in textbooks, but when they were put into effect they really played out poorly in the real world. …So I rejected liberalism because I saw with my own eyes how these policies played out.
“When Ronald Reagan was elected, I saw how lower marginal tax rates boosted the economy. It was a living laboratory — leftist ideas versus conservative principles — and I saw how the conservative ideals led to prosperity. I prefer prosperity! The fruits of liberalism are high unemployment, high interest rates, inflation and lack of prosperity. …”
On the possibility of running for the U.S. Senate:
“I won’t close the door on anything. But, you know, I never anticipated going into politics. I never saw that as my future. I was an accidental state senator. I didn’t intend to run for office, and then I was recruited and encouraged to run for Congress when my predecessor, Mark Kennedy, ran for the Senate. So, elective office wasn’t something that I sought out. . …So, no, I don’t have my sights set on the U.S. Senate, or on anything else.”
On what she reads:
“I read varied books, and I read a lot. The book I’m reading right now I just adore. It’s my second time through it. It’s Gov. [William] Bradford’s journal, ‘Of Plymouth Plantation.’ It’s a marvelous book. They came to these shores in 1620, and he wrote the book in about 1650 or thereabouts. He wrote literally in the King James English. So it’s very difficult to read, but it’s … spellbinding. The depth of commitment of this band of brothers provided the ember of what America really is: the American spirit. So I read Bradford’s journal for inspiration.
“I read very little fiction. Occasionally I’ll read a Vince Flynn novel — he’s a St. Paul guy, so I want to support the hometown team. I like science, and have read Christopher Horne [author of ‘The Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming’] and [atmospheric physicist Dr. Fred] Singer on climate change. I also love biography because it teaches us so much about human nature.
“But I also read great works of history, especially Paul Johnson’s books. The book I’ll be reading on the plane today is former Justice [Joseph] Story’s primer, ‘Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States.’ It was written for high school students, but I think today graduate students would have a difficult time with it.”