Everyone knows that Michele Bachmann is not going to become President. As with a lot of things everyone knows, it’s hard to tell whether Michele Bachmann knows that. The congress-woman from Minnesota is currently running at 3% support among Republican voters, just ahead of Rick Santorum, although her Gallup recognition score is among the highest. Basically, as many people know as much about Bachmann as possible, and three out of every 100 of them like what they hear. Taking my sixth grade class as a representative sample, that’s roughly the same percentage of the population that wets their pants in a given year. Yet Bachmann continues to behave as if she were a candidate for President. This week, she “vowed to eradicate socialism throughout the entire US government,” before noting that many of her fellow Republicans were socialists themselves. If history has taught us anything, it’s that a widening crusade against Marxists will never backfire on a congressperson from the upper midwest. But that’s not important now. What’s important is figuring out whether Bachmann actually believes she could still be President, and just what the fudge is happening inside her head.
As in many branches of theoretical physics, we must rely on probabilities here rather than quantitative measurement. Michele Bachmann’s head is an extra-dimensional manifold that light/ideas cannot enter, except through the eyes, and those are heavily camouflaged. So we have to look at a range of possibilities and match them with their phenomenal manifestations as best we can, but we can’t really know what’s going on in Michele Bachmann’s head. It’s like Schrödinger’s Cat, only instead of a cat and a subatomic particle there’s a boxelder bug and a wad of hair in there, plus wind. Based on the information we have and the constraints of logic, we are confronted with two possibilities:
- Michele Bachmann believes that if she does/says the right things, she can become President of the United States.
- Michele Bachmann believes that no matter what she does/says, she will not become President of the United States.
Observe that if (2) is an accurate description of the quantum state inside Bachmann’s head, then her behavior on the campaign trial likely pursues Other Objectives. There’s no real precedent for what a person like Bachmann might do after unsuccessfully running for national office, but presumably she’d write a book or go on Fox and exasperate Richard Dawkins or whatever. If that’s her intention, then she should behave as absurdly as possible in the remaining weeks of her campaign so that people remember her later. On the other hand, if (1) is accurate and she still plans on being a candidate in the 2012 general election, she should not talk like she’s been drinking Ny-Quil and then forcing herself to stay up all night. Which brings us to Exhibit A, courtesy of The Hill:
“Too many Republicans, they also aspire to be ‘frugal socialists,'” Bachmann said [to the Family Research Council.] But asked by a reporter which Republicans she was invoking, the Minnesota lawmaker demurred. “That’s part of the puzzle that you figure out when I give a speech,” she said with a sly smile.
There’s kind of an unclear antecedent in the sentence “that’s part of the puzzle that you figure out when I give a speech,” so allow me to clarify: “that” is “what the hell I am talking about.” By now, we recognize this maneuver as classic Bachmann: refer to the large number of examples that support your broad generalization, then—when asked to cite one of those examples—explain that you were speaking figuratively. The other word for this practice is “lying.”
Lying is to Michele Bachmann as radio spectrum emission is to quasar: it’s pretty much the only way we know she’s there. By considering the trajectory of this particular lie through the space-time continuum, we can get a fix on her position. Bachmann is employing a tactic familiar from Torquemada/Robespierre/Robertson that I’m going to call the Unfocused Accusation. Basically, you claim that a crime is widespread without naming any person committing it, so that you get to enjoy the office of prosecutor without the headache of filing indictments. It’s like being a Puritan witch hunter: the only bad days are when you actually have to light a specific neighbor on fire.
Note that the Unfocused Accusation only works when you have a large number of opponents. If the GOP race somehow got down to Bachmann, Mitt Romney and Herman Cain, she would have to specify which millionaire businessman was a socialist.* The untenability of that position suggests that Bachmann Headstate (2) is correct, and Mmm–Bach has no intention of winning the nomination. She has a short-term strategy and she’s sticking to it. By definition, that is the approach of a person who does not expect to be doing much of anything for long.