The Tea Party took another step toward actuality last week with the approval of a congressional Tea Party Caucus, headed by none other than Michele Bachmann. And you know what that means! Okay, technically that does not mean it’s time for another edition of Meanwhile, inside Michele Bachmann’s head, since that series is explicitly not about Michele Bachmann. It seemed like a genius system at the time, but in retrospect our decision to make MIMBH about everyone but the person whose name is mentioned in the title was an editorial oversight. Henceforth, Combat! blog will use Meanwhile, inside Michele Bachmann’s head to talk about Michele Bachmann. This paragraph is surely of little interest to anyone, except various web crawlers that are, as we speak, making this page the definitive result for people who type “michele bachmann” into Google. For the purposes of attracting that traffic, let me just wind things up by saying michele bachmann hot, michele bachmann legs, michele bachmann crazy bitch who looks at me while i’m asleep.
Now that that’s out the way: those of us who hoped having a congressional caucus might bring the Tea Party a little closer to articulating a policy agenda—or even an internal system of leadership—are just going to have to wait until next year’s crazy season. “We are not going to be the mouthpiece of the Tea Party,” Bachmann told the Associated Press. “The people are the head of the Tea Party. We are here to listen, to be a receptacle.”
And what a receptacle it is. The TPC is a veritable rogue’s gallery of people who have said, done or yelled crazy things since November of 2008, including Joe Wilson, Pete Sessions, and Joe “I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to BP” Barton. The 40-member caucus is entirely Republican, and includes three of the seven highest-ranking members in the party’s House leadership. Which seems as if it finally answers the question of what the Tea Party is—it’s a savvy marketing term for the GOP.
According to Bachmann, the Tea Party Caucus is not designed to provide an “alternative voice” to Republican leadership. She described the group’s role as “complementary” to the Republican Party, stressing that the caucus would bring the voices of local Tea Party groups throughout the country to the House floor, and not the other way around. As she explained it to the AP, her goal is to help Congress hear from “real people with real lives.”
So the thing you should know about Representative Bachmann is that she considers some American lives more real than others. This line of rhetoric—an extension of the already-creepy “real Americans” meme—seems to be at the the center of Bachmann’s performance, here. She compared the Tea Party Caucus to “the shellfish caucus, the potato caucus, the missile defense caucus”—just another group representing a specific interest, except in this case the interest is almost completely undefined. “Usually we invite experts in,” Bachmann said of her plans to bring Tea Party speakers to the House floor. “Well, these are experts in just being regular Americans.”
One assumes that these experts will have published significant articles about the theory and praxis of regular Americanness in peer-reviewed journals—Reader’s Digest leaps to mind—but it’s also possible that, like fifty percent*of what comes out of Bachmann’s mouth, that’s just some folksy bullshit. The stated function of the Tea Party Caucus is to give “real Americans,” who are also “regular Americans,” an opportunity to talk to Congress about their “real lives.”
If you’re trying to figure out exactly whom Bachmann is talking about, it’s hard not to look at the confluence of “real” and “regular” and “ordinary” and see both A) a rhetoric of legitimacy/illegitimacy and B) an argument for the majority. To be regular and ordinary is to be in the largest part—by race, by class, or by religion. It’s not surprising that the overwhelmingly white, middle-class, Christian Tea Party, which coalesced immediately after the election of the first black President, prefers this rhetoric to a specific policy agenda. Even on the floor of Congress, their position is simply that “regular” Americans like themselves should have more power.
What is surprising is that this Tea Party Caucus, which looks increasingly like a Christian white power movement, is such a legitimately powerful branch of the Republican Party. As David Frum points out, Bachmann and Wilson are both fundraising dynamos, having amassed over $4 million apiece this election cycle. The average member of the 40-person caucus has raised just over $1 million—a solid amount when you consider that $1.1 million was the magic number to win an election in 2006. I’m sorry to say it, but whatever is happening in Michele Bachmann’s head is A) vague, exclusionary, possibly racist and B) working.