Everyone’s favorite tempero-cultural anomaly went on CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday morning, where she answered questions about how she compares to Mitt Romney (molded plastic vs. lifelike vinyl) and why so many of the sounds she makes with her mouth are not factually accurate. Full video after the jump. Brave spelunker Bob Schieffer made an admirable attempt to plumb the depths of Michele Bachmann’s head, but ultimately, he was swallowed up like so many styrofoam packing peanuts before him. At issue was PolitiFact’s* recent examination of 23 of Mm-Bach’s public statements, only one of which was found to be “completely true.” Others ranged from “barely true” to “pants on fire.” I think we can all agree that we want our president to make a lot of statements that can be described as “barely true,” but that’s not what’s fascinating about this interview. What’s fascinating is the sheer quantity of rhetorical chaff Bachmann deploys to avoid acknowledging that she, you know, lied. And it sort of works, although whether on Schieffer or on herself is not entirely clear.
There’s our girl. As you can see, large portions of this interview are not about getting caught lying, at least not yet. I particularly enjoy Bachmann’s claim that, by implied contrast with the President, she “thinks profits are a good thing.” You know, anybody can tacitly impugn her rivals by professing her love for freedom or families or some abstract buzz-concept. It takes a real pro to aver that, of all the candidates in the 2012 field, you are the one who recognizes the value of advantage derived through labor or economic exchange.
But I digress. The real fun of this interview comes when Schieffer asks Mm-Bach, by way of synecdoche, about her claim that “there had been only one offshore oil drilling permit during the Obama administration. And in fact, at that time, there had been 270. How do you explain that?” Right out of the gate, Bachmann explains it by saying that “what’s more clear than anything” is that Obama has not issued enough permits for offshore drilling. Even when she is pressed, and Schieffer reminds her that the question is why she said the number was one when really it was 270, Bachmann insists that what she said was basically true, because the President has not drilled enough.
It’s a tactic she uses often. As with the percentage of the economy controlled by the federal government or how many Nobel prize-winning scientists believe in intelligent design, Bachmann defends her misleading “fact” by arguing that it led her audience to a right conclusion. These are “facts” as rhetorical device, the way you say “90% of people” when you mean most people or “I need to borrow twenty bucks” when you already took $5,400. So yeah, maybe the President has issued like 300 oil permits by now instead of one, but the fact remains that he hasn’t done enough. That’s what’s clear.
Except, of course, it’s totally not clear. One offshore drilling permit does sound pretty light, but 270 could be, you know, anything. I have no idea how many offshore drilling permits is normal for a given year, or how much oil we need, or why for that matter offshore oil is different from land oil. All of these are areas of ignorance to me, and 270 is a number I simply lack the expertise to evaluate. But one—one is definitely not enough.
The beauty of the “fact” as rhetorical device is that it gets around the problem of audience ignorance even as it presupposes it. Michele Bachmann is right about offshore drilling and the American people are ignorant. Ergo, Mm-Bach will make up a fact that convinces people President Obama is not doing nearly enough drilling. It doesn’t matter that the “fact” is not true, because it convinces people of the correct position that Bachmann invented the fact to support, and they don’t have the knowledge to evaluate it anyway. They’ll just hear it, change their minds, and be right.
The logic is nearly airtight, but if you look carefully, you can find the hole. We still have no rubric to evaluate whether we’re doing enough offshore drilling—other than the expertise of Michele Bachmann, and Michele Bachmann does not arrive at her positions via facts. The Congresswoman from Minnesota arrives at facts via her positions. When she says that “the President has a politically correct environmental policy,” it takes precedence over permit numbers and quotes and fact-checking and stuff. Michele Bachmann is so right she doesn’t need to hear a bunch of reasons why she is or, you know, might not be. If only there were a word for that.