Michele Bachmann’s lesson

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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“It’s better to burn out than to fade away.” That’s according to Neil Young. And Michele Bachmann, it seems.

There is a lot one could say about Bachmann’s decision not to seek another term — and there are many criticisms that could be lodged. As readers of this space know, I’ve long been a critic of Bachmann. (One column, in particular, got me taken out behind the woodshed by both Levin and Limbaugh.)

But rather than piling on for the sake of piling on, this presents a “teachable moment.” And I think the big lesson to learn here is about hubris and ambition — and the danger of overreaching.

Bachmann was in Congress for a cup of coffee before she began doing television and radio hits. Lots of them. This made sense, she was telegenic and didn’t pull many punches. But it was also too soon — too ambitious.

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This attention wasn’t enough for her. And so, she did the next logical thing. She ran for president.

Americans tend not to elect members of the House as president, but that didn’t stop Bachmann from seeking what might be seen as a major promotion — becoming Commander-in-Chief. This is audacity.

As it turned out, that presidential run sowed the seeds for all sorts of problems. She would have to subtly downplay her ties to Minnesota (where she currently served), in order to play up her home state connection to Iowa. And there were gaffes and mistakes and sloppiness and corners cut on the trail (leading to allegations of FEC violations.)

She became a skyscraper without a solid foundation.

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Here’s what I think. We get the politicians we deserve. Our society fetishizes ambition, and pays only lip service to the the virtues of hard work. We revere moxie, while giving humbleness a perfunctory pat on the head as we jet off to our next meeting in search of the next big thing (which, of course, will only satisfy us for a bit).

But what if Michele Bachmann had been built to last?

What if she had paid her dues? What if she had said “no” to television and radio (for a while, at least), rolled up her sleeves, and worked on becoming a great representative to her constituents — and a master of legislation? And, to help, what if  she had surrounded herself with top-notch and long-serving staff?

What if she had spent more time in Anoka and less time in Ames?

Matt K. Lewis