Meanwhile, inside Michele Bachmann’s head

run subroutine {real Americans} ^not found^ :: gosub {made-up statistics} ^catalog error^ /fail

Like a child who insists that everyone watch her do a roundoff after her older sister’s piano recital, Michele Bachmann held a rally of her own Saturday at the Washington Monument, across the Mall from Glenn Beck. The event was essentially a campaign speech—outside of the state in which she is campaigning, which adds to the terrifying accumulation of evidence that Bachmann is trying to become some sort of national figure—but it occasioned perhaps the funniest Washington Post story ever written. Emi Kolawole packs more gems of dry paragraph-structure humor into her 275 words than I have time to enumerate here, including:

The Republican lawmaker also took the opportunity to list members of the House Tea Party Caucus, which she chairs. When she reached the name of Rep. Joe Wilson, best known for shouting “you lie” during President Obama’s address to Congress, the crowd started chanting “you lie.”

The best journalism makes you feel like you’re there. My favorite quote from Kolawole’s report, however, and the big story from the event, was Bachmann’s absurd estimate of the size of the crowd. Lay down some plastic, because your head is going to explode when you click on “More…”

On a day when crowd estimates could provide [Sharpton’s and Beck’s] respective groups with political clout, Bachmann asked her audience how many thought more than 1 million people were in attendance. The question was met by big cheers from the gathering of about 1,000. “We’re not going let anyone get away with saying there were less than a million here today because we were witnesses,” Bachmann said.

In case you’re wondering, the independent company CBS News hired to estimate the size of the crowd via aerial photographs and computer algorithms put attendance at 87,000, give or take nine grand. Even if they were off by a factor of ten, Bachmann grossly overestimated her audience—although, to be fair, when she hears someone shouting agreement with her, she sees him as a dozen people.

Lest you think that Representative Bachmann simply got carried away in the excitement of the moment, she appeared on Laura Ingraham’s radio show Monday and said that 1.6 million people attended the Restoring Honor rally. “Unofficially,” she said, “off the record, we talked to one of the guys from the National Park Police who told us he thought it was 1.6 million. There had to be over a million people there.”

Here is the statement of a responsible public figure who takes what she says seriously. Bachmann’s willingness to go on the radio and report the rally’s attendance at 20 times the official estimate—which she surely read—is troubling, but what’s downright revelatory was how she first presented the number to her constituents.

“We’re not going to let anyone get away with saying there were less than a million here today,” she said, “because we were witnesses.” Here is a person who understands the value of consistently presented misinformation. Just as when she appeared on multiple news outlets to claim that the federal government controlled 51% of the economy—a number that she pulled out of thin air, like her claim that 30% of doctors intended to leave private practice if Congress passed health care reform—Bachmann knows that a certain number of people will believe anything if you repeat it enough.

To Bachmann, what makes something a fact is how many people are willing to say it. On Saturday she reminded her supporters that a thousand witnesses is enough to build a lie that can change the world. In this context, “lie” isn’t even the right word. A thousand witnesses is enough to make a truth, rather than relying on the random truth-making processes of TV shows and newspaper reports. With sufficient popular support, you’ll have all the facts you need.

Unless you are Jurgen Habermas, I probably don’t need to tell you that that is not how actual facts are made. Facts are made by stuff happening, and what happened on Saturday, as best we can discern, is that 78 to 96 thousand people went to the Washington Mall to hear Glenn Beck speak. To say that Bachmann’s thousand “witnesses” change that is like saying that God put dinosaur bones in the earth’s crust to test us, just because a few million Americans believe it’s so.

It isn’t. Voting on things doesn’t make them true, even if you’ve spent your whole life trying to get people to vote a certain way rather than trying to figure stuff out. Michele Bachmann is a liar, and like many liars she seems to have lost track of what the terms “true” and “false” even mean. She’s making a world inside her head, and the only test of whether its real or not is how many people she can get to believe it.

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  1. Is it too obvious to opine that a first step toward Restoring Honor would be for Bachmann’s constituents to vote this Sarah Palin-wannabe out of office?

  2. Apparently “Restoring Honor” doesn’t involve restoring truth. I figured you had to have truth to have honor. I must have figured wrongly, because she has witnesses!

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