While Scotland does not follow American politics closely, most will recall Sarah Palin as the ‘running mate’ of John McCain, Republican candidate defeated by Barack Obama in 2008. They may not recall the Alaska governor’s right-wing agenda and therefore won’t feel alarmed that she has been overtaken on the right by Minnesota Representative Michele Bachman, darling of the Republican right-wing shock troops referred to as the Tea Party movement, named for the infamous incident in Boston harbour (harbor?) that triggered the 1776 war of independence.
No sooner had Michele Bachmann hijacked the Republican presidential contenders’ debate on June 14th to declare she is indeed a candidate for the White House than her newly minted campaign website said she is on her way to “reclaim America”. Americans may also know less about the first Republican congresswoman from Minnesota than they do of that other Tea Party darling Sarah Palin. But we and they are about to learn. Fast.
During a 2008 interview she criticised Barack Obama for his association with Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers, saying “…usually we associate with people who have similar ideas to us, and it seems that it calls into question what Barack Obama’s true beliefs, values and thoughts are…I am very concerned that he may have anti-American views.” Don’t be deceived that this sounds like laughable Soviet revisionism-speak; in the States, that’s as good as calling the President a traitor who consorts with terrorists. In the recent jockeying, front-runner Mitt Romney’s ability to speak French was framed by Bachmann as unpatriotic: “All we have to know is the president deferred leadership in Libya to France. That’s all we need to know.” Republicans do not like “cheese-eating surrender monkeys.” (originally Groundskeeper Willie in a 1995 Simpsons episode). This woman can’t be stupid: she has a BA and a law degree. Yet she believes global warming is a hoax because “carbon dioxide occurs naturally and therefore can’t be harmful to us”.
If she were some also-ran, she could be dismissed as the usual extremist Republican
who throws their hat into the presidential short-list ring. But this week’s news is that Bachmann now has a lead over former front-runner, governor Mitt Romney, that may be significantly wider than the 4% margin reflected in last weekend’s Iowa poll. Among voters described as the “most attentive,” Bachmann leads by a much-wider 14-point margin, 32% to 18%. Attentive voters are more likely to turn out to vote. The rest of the field, including Newt “You-Can’t-Trust-Anyone-with-Power” Gingrich, are in the single-digit dust. Palin has not declared and now is too late to. That means the odds are on a female Republican candidate more right-wing than Reagan or either Bush in 2012.
Why should we sweat it? Barack roared into power in 2008 and should ace 2012 after all his innovation like the health initiative, right? Well, yes, after the stasis and errors of Dubya, he was a breath of fresh air. But if the recession was blamed on Bush allowing Wall Street excesses, the economic bite, the 9.5% jobless rate and accelerated decline in American manufacturing (not to mention a whopping trade imbalance with the Chinese) means that Joe Sixpack is pointing at the White House as responsible.
Minnesota is normally Democrat and not radical country. It is known for dairy products and down-home small town America of the Coen Brothers’ Fargo or Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion (“where all the children are above average”). Bachmann claims to be the new broom from there to clean out the Augean stables. She has the cash backing and is gaining the momentum. America may be a big country but its politics are that simple.