Bachmann: She’s got money but she don’t have Cash

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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I can pinpoint the moment when I realized Michele Bachmann’s campaign was for real. It happened during the debate in New Hampshire when she refused to say whether she preferred Johnny Cash or Elvis Presley. That was the moment I knew she would be a force to be reckoned with.

Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash are obviously cultural icons. It is impossible for an American between the ages of thirty and seventy to not have an opinion on which is superior (Johnny Cash was better, though Elvis is still more famous). Yet Bachmann managed to dodge the question, and get away with it.

After the debate, John King, the CNN debate moderator, was roundly criticized for attempting to humanize the candidates by asking “this or that” questions. But the more I think about it, the more I think Bachmann’s answer (non-answer, really) told us more about her commitment to winning than anything substantive she might have said. This is something I have not been able to stop thinking about for more than a week now.

The Presley/Cash question was interesting for several reasons, including the fact that both men began their careers at Sun Records in Memphis, both had similar personal struggles, and both essentially had two careers (which is why there is a “young Elvis” and an “old Elvis”). But Bachmann has one career to advance, and picking one icon over the other would have done nothing to further it.

This was not about whether one prefers think crust or deep-dish pizza; people take their music personally. There was no way she could have predicted that question. And here’s the thing — Bachmann somehow realized this instinctively.

And the impressive thing was her ability to subdue the natural urge we all have to give our opinions when asked. This sort of suppression requires discipline. Newt Gingrich could not have done this. Newt Gingrich would have argued that either Presley or Cash was superior. He would have done this unequivocally. He would have said one or the other was “clearly” better. Interesting people who have thought about such things usually want to tell you their opinions.

This is human. This is natural. Not only would I have told King that Cash was better than Presley, I would have added that Cat Stevens was a better singer/songwriter than Jim Croce, and that Nirvana was a better grunge band than Pearl Jam (oh yeah, and Joe Montana was a better quarterback than Dan Marino …). I could do two hours on the Cash vs. Presley argument, alone; I could do an hour just on Cash’s collaborations with Def Jam Records co-founder Rick Rubin.

This is why Michele Bachmann has a better chance at being president than Newt Gingrich or me. Keep an eye on her.

Matt K. Lewis