The national media is now starting to figure something out: Michele Bachmann says a lot of things that aren’t just kind of crazy, but manifestly false. Of course, this is in no way news to the folks here at TPM, or to our readers — we’ve been keeping track of her for quite some time.
Bachmann, of course, has been raked over the coals for her claim, as part of an attack on Rick Perry for issuing an executive order that young girls in Texas be vaccinated against the sexually-transmitted disease HPV, that a woman told her after this week’s Republican debate that the HPV vaccine had caused her daughter to develop mental retardation. This statement helped to spread long-standing myths that vaccines cause retardation or autism in some children, an idea that the medical profession has worked very hard to dispel.
Bachmann has been slammed for this statement not only by pediatricians, and the counter-attacking Rick Perry, but also by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and her own former campaign manager Ed Rollins. And now, Bachmann has walked back the retardation claims, while continuing to hammer Perry on the vaccination issue itself.
This is on top of some more humorous, and much less consequential, misstatements from Bachmann that confused John Wayne and John Wayne Gacy, or when she confused the dates of Elvis Presley’s birth and death.
In fact, in February 2010 she said something of a very similar pattern as the vaccine blunder — that some random, unidentified person made a striking allegation to her in a private conversation. In this case, it was a man that she met who said he had lived in Japan, and who had something dramatic to say about that country’s universal health care system.
“But he said, this is something that people don’t know. In Japan, people have stopped voicing their opinion on health care…He said it’s because they know that they would get on a list, and they wouldn’t get health care. They wouldn’t get in, they wouldn’t get seen, and so people are afraid, they’re afraid to speak back to government. They’re afraid to say anything. Is that what we want for our future? That takes us to gangster government, at that point.”
Simply put, there is no substantiation for such a claim. And like any other democracy, Japan’s political system contains healthy debates on all sorts of issues, with lively competition between their own political parties.
The date April 28, 2009, was a special date — when Bachmann made two far-out statements that defied history.
Of the swine-flu pandemic, Bachmann said: “I find it interesting that it was back in the 1970s that the swine flu broke out then under another Democrat president Jimmy Carter. And I’m not blaming this on President Obama, I just think it’s an interesting coincidence.”
In fact, the previous flu pandemic that Bachmann mentioned happened in 1976 — the year that Jimmy Carter was elected, but when Gerald Ford was actually president. And just to be clear, we here at TPM do not believe or even remotely imply that Gerald Ford’s presence in the White House had anything to do with the flu epidemic happening then, either.
On the same day, Bachmann gave an incisive explanation of the Great Depression — as it occurred in an alternate universe.
“And as a matter of fact, the recession that FDR had to deal with wasn’t as bad as the recession Coolidge had to deal with in the early 20’s,” Bachmann claimed. “Yet the prescription that Coolidge put on that, from history, is lower taxes, lower regulatory burden, and we saw the Roaring 20’s, where we saw markets and growth in the economy like we’d never seen before in the history of the country.
“FDR applied just the opposite formula — the Hoot-Smalley Act, which was a tremendous burden on tariff restrictions. And then of course, trade barriers, and the regulatory burden, and the tax barriers. That’s what we saw happen under FDR that took a recession, and blew it into a full-scale depression. The American people suffered for almost ten years under that kind of thinking.”
In fact, when Franklin Roosevelt took office, unemployment was already about 25%. And the tariff referred to here was actually the Smoot-Hawley bill, co-authored by Republicans Sen. Reed Smoot of Utah and Rep. Willis Hawley of Oregon, and signed into law by President Herbert Hoover, also a Republican. (What’s more, most economists do not believe the Smoot-Hawley Act caused the Great Depression, though the tariffs did make a bad situation even worse.)
Smoot, Hawley and Hoover were all defeated for re-election in the 1932 election, which brought Franklin Roosevelt and large Democratic Congressional majorities into office.
A bit earlier in April 2009, Bachmann warned that Democratic efforts to expand AmeriCorps community service programs would lead to “re-education camps for young people”:
I believe when it’s all said and done, this service that — I believe that there’s a very strong chance that we will see that young people will be put into mandatory service. And the real concern is that there are provisions for what I would call re-education camps for young people, where young people have to go and get trained in a philosophy that the government puts forward and then they have to go and work in some of these politically correct forums. It’s very concerning. It appears that there’s a philosophical agenda behind all of this, and especially if young people are mandated to go into this. As a parent, I would have a very, very difficult time seeing my children do this. Again, a huge power-grab, at a cost of billions of dollars.
A few months later, her son Harrison Bachmann joined an AmeriCorps program, Teach For America.
Bachmann threatened civil disobedience in June 2009, saying that her family would refuse to fill out private information in the federal Census. (Note: This is illegal, and could result in people not being included in the count.) “I know for my family the only question we will be answering is how many people are in our home,” said Bachmann, who warned of corrupt ACORN involvement in the census. “We won’t be answering any information beyond that, because the Constitution doesn’t require any information beyond that.”
Bachmann also claimed that the Census was linked to one of America’s most shameful chapters, the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II — but she said she was not predicting that President Obama would do a similar thing!
“Take this into consideration. If we look at American history, between 1942 and 1947, the data that was collected by the Census Bureau was handed over to the FBI and other organizations at the request of President Roosevelt, and that’s how the Japanese were rounded up and put into the internment camps,” said Bachmann. “I’m not saying that that’s what the Administration is planning to do, but I am saying that private personal information that was given to the Census Bureau in the 1940s was used against Americans to round them up, in a violation of their constitutional rights, and put the Japanese in internment camps.”
Later on, in December 2009, Bachmann spoke before a rally outside Capitol Hill, in opposition to the health care reform bill that eventually passed. Bachmann revved up the crowd: “It’s the charge of the light brigade!”
In fact, the Light Brigade lost that famous battle of the Crimean War — they lost it badly, sustaining heavy numbers of deaths and injuries. They are celebrated not for victory, but for their bravery in taking on truly insurmountable odds in a military disaster.
Bachmann must not have known about the Light Brigade’s actual history, as memorialized in poetry by Lord Tennyson:
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.
She was then informed of this problem the next day by MinnPost. “Oh, what did I say this time?” Bachmann asked with a laugh. She also added: “My goal is to get people inspired, charged up, and hopefully they talked to their United States senator, but I hope that your historical analysis is not true and reflective of today’s events.”
In February 2010, Bachmann told a North Dakota Republican audience that President George W. Bush only added $400 billion to the national debt: “Because if you look at the debt level accumulated under George W. Bush, 400 some-odd billion dollars, President Obama in his first year in office accumulated $1.4 trillion, over four times more than that big spending George Bush — and that was after 9/11 and the recessions and all that he had to deal with and the two wars. Over four times.”
In March 2010, Bachmann made a bold claim about President Obama’s alleged nationalization of the American economy, starting from the TARP bailout of Wall Street in late 2008. “And what we saw this Tuesday, once the president signed the health care bill at the 11th hour in the morning on Tuesday, that effected 51% government takeover of the private economy,” Bachmann said. “It is really quite sobering what has happened. From 100% of our economy was private prior to September of 2008, but as of Tuesday, the federal government has now taken ownership or control of 51% of the private economy.”
Also in March 2010, Bachmann threatened mass civil disobedience against the health care reform law, if the Democrats were to pass it through the House using the “deem-and-pass” parliamentary maneuver (which they ultimately did not do). “We aren’t gonna play their game, we’re not gonna pay their taxes. They want us to pay for this? Because we don’t have to. We don’t have to,” Bachmann told a rally at the Minnesota State Capitol. “We don’t have to follow a bill that isn’t law. That’s not the American way, and that’s not what we’re going to do.”
She also added: “If they pass the bill legitimately, then yes, we have to follow the law — until we repeal it. But if they pass it illegitimately, then the bill is illegitimate, and we don’t have to lay down for this. It’s not difficult to figure out.”
Of course, this is a tautological statement. The private and public portions of the American economy have fluctuated over time, depending on the needs and policy decisions of the era — as such there, has never been any such thing as a 100% private economy, as long there is any such thing as government in existence. And at any moment, 100% of the “private economy” is private. (Bachmann misses an obvious follow-up — 100% of the public economy is run by the government. Socialism!)
In January 2011, Bachmann claimed that America had been founded on ethnic diversity and racial equality. But as for the obvious proof against that claim — slavery — she said: “we also know that the very founders that wrote those documents worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States…I think it is high time that we recognize the contribution of our forbearers who worked tirelessly — men like John Quincy Adams, who would not rest until slavery was extinguished in the country.”
It is very much true that John Quincy Adams became a vocal opponent of slavery, especially during his time in the House of Representatives. But Adams was not one of the founders — his father, John Adams, was a Founding Father — nor did he live to see the Emancipation Proclamation signed in 1863, having died in 1848. (Another troublesome fact for Bachmann: Adams was one of the leading figures of America’s liberal tradition, supporting government involvement not only in physical infrastructure such as roads and canals, but also the human infrastructure of education, science and the arts, and support for a national central bank. Back in those days, these policies were collectively referred to by the name “internal improvements.”)
In March 2011, while campaigning in New Hampshire, Bachmann said: “What I love about New Hampshire and what we have in common is our extreme love for liberty. You’re the state where the shot was heard around the world in Lexington and Concord.”
In fact, the Battle of Lexington and Concord was in Massachusetts. Bachmann later tweeted a “correction” of sorts: “So I misplaced the battles Concord and Lexington by saying they were in New Hampshire. It was my mistake, Massachusetts is where they happened. New Hampshire is where they are still proud of it!”