Matt Lewis

Michele Bachmann enters Al Gore territory

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor

“[And I got a letter from a student in] Sarasota High School. Her science class was supposed to be for 24 students. She is the 36th student in that classroom, sent me a picture of her in the classroom. They can’t squeeze another desk in for her, so she has to stand during class. I want the federal government, consistent with local control and new accountability, to make improvement of our schools the number one priority so [that students] will have a desk and can sit down in a classroom where she can learn.” – Al Gore (presidential debate, Boston Mass.)

“… I had a mother last night come up to me here in Tampa, Florida, after the debate. She told me that her little daughter took that vaccine, that injection, and she suffered from mental retardation thereafter. It can have very dangerous side effects.” – Michele Bachmann on NBC’s “Today” show.

Texas Governor Rick Perry has been criticized for his past ties to Al Gore, but it seems like Rep. Michele Bachmann might be the one channeling him these days. (Hey, I wonder if the woman who approached Bachmann after the debate was also the little girl who wrote to Al Gore?– I think they were both from Florida…).

It’s hard to remember now, but Gore was severely harmed by the notion that he had a penchant for exaggerating things. (This is probably why the canard that he said he “invented the internet” found fertile soil.)

Gore’s story about the little girl without a desk turned out to be bogus — and Bachmann’s story seems equally dubious. (Nobody doubts that someone approached Bachmann with a story, mind you — the concern is that Bachmann believed it and repeated it on national television.)

As FactCheck.org noted, “No scientific evidence backs Rep. Michele Bachmann’s second-hand story of HPV vaccine causing mental retardation. Our research reveals that 35 million doses of the vaccine have been administered, without a single reported case of mental retardation.”

By relaying this tale, Bachmann turned what had been a strength into a liability — and simultaneously provided her opponent with a convenient escape hatch. Perry got to tell reporters that her statement had “no basis in fact” — and he was quite correct. Other observers noted that Bachmann had entered into “Jenny McCarthy territory” — meaning that she was now advocating an anti-vaccine “conspiracy theory.”

What is more, former Bachmann aides were quick to chime in. For example, former adviser Ed Rollins conceded to MSNBC that, “She made a mistake,” adding, “The quicker she admits she made a mistake and moves on, the better she is.” And a former Bachmann chief of staff, turned foe, told CNN that Bachmann’s comments were the result of her “impulsive nature.”

Thanks to Bachmann mistake, the subject has changed from, “Wasn’t Rick Perry wrong to support ‘government injections’?” to “Is Michele Bachmann an impulsive conspiracy theorist?”

The real danger, of course, is that Bachmann already has a pattern of saying things that aren’t terribly accurate. And once a politician is stuck with the label of lacking credibility, it is very hard for them to reverse the meme. (Every statement begins with the presumption that it may lack veracity.)

If Bachmann’s not careful, she might enter into Al Gore territory…