If you've read even a couple of the many Michele Bachmann profiles that have been written this year, you're probably wondering why we need yet another one — how much more is there to learn about this woman? Plenty, as Ryan Lizza's lengthy New Yorker profile shows. Access helps: Lizza travels aboard Bachmann's campaign plane — the "Barbie Jet" as she's dubbed it, where journalists are asked not to photograph Bachmann in her casual clothing. They comply:
She swung around to face the press, displaying the front-page headline: “ROMNEY, BACHMANN LEAD REPUBLICAN PACK.” It was a perfect shot. The members of the press looked at her cargo pants and then at one another. Nobody took a picture.
Lizza also has a couple of amusing conversations with Bachmann's husband, Marcus, who refers to himself as the campaign's "highest-maintenance traveler." First, there's this:
Marcus Bachmann plopped down on the seat next to me, in the back of the plane. He pointed at my laptop and asked if he could take a look. “All I want to know is what they’re saying about me,” he said. “Newsweek came up with the word ‘silver fox.’ Tell me what ‘silver fox’ means.”
“Do you want me to tell you honestly?” I asked.
“Oh, don’t tell me it’s something gay!” he said. “Because I’ve been called that before.” Marcus is a psychologist who runs a clinic that employs people Michele described in 2006 as “Biblical world-view counsellors,” who “reach out and try to bring the medicine of the Gospel to come and heal people.”
Lizza, for his part, tells Bachmann he looks a whole lot like Friday Night Lights' Buddy Garrity, which prompts the Dr. Bachmann to declare, " “My goodness, you guys are quick, sharp, and complimentary so far — just until I get to know you long enough, and then you might even tell the truth.” That unwillingness to believe that a member of the mainstream (or liberal, depending on your perspective) media might portray the family in a fair light is one that Michele shares. Surprised at a relatively positive mention of herself in the New York Times, she muses, "Maybe it’s because he was so mean last time and he feels like he needs to do better."
The meat of the profile, though, is concerned with how Bachmann has touched up her image for a national campaign. She used to tout her roots from a "broken home in Anoka, Minnestota"; now it's all Iowa origins, all the time. Similarly, she's altered other origin stories: Bachmann now loves to say that she ran for school board essentially as a spur-of-the-moment thing, but Lizza reports that she told a Minnesota newspaper she'd been thinking about it for a year or so. Her time working for the IRS might be a crucial part of how Bachmann has cast herself as a tax-policy expert, but her former colleagues say she took so much maternity time during her four years in the office that she didn't really do a ton of substantive work there.
Then there's the matter of slavery. Earlier this election season, Bachmann signed a pledge that, in its original wording, essentially implied that African-Americans were better off under slavery. Of course, she worked to dissociate herself from that view (maybe a little too hard — she kept insisting, even though her campaign wanted her to drop the discussion and stop reminding people about her gaffe, that the Founding Fathers had worked against slavery). But one of the books that Bachmann highlighted for years on her website as a "must read" is a biography of Robert E. Lee by J. Steven Wilkins, who argues that "Slavery, as it operated in the pervasively Christian society which was the old South, was not an adversarial relationship founded upon racial animosity. In fact, it bred on the whole, not contempt, but, over time, mutual respect." Not so different from that controversial pledge, after all.
Leap of Faith [NYer]