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Michele Bachmann: how the press dealt with nuts running for president

by Bill Prendergast on April 19, 2012

Chris Cilizza wrote a piece about the Republican presidential candidates that isn’t worth reading.

This fact is worth noting, since Cilizza has status as one of the “go to” pundits on national politics. Despite that (or maybe because it,) he files a lengthy piece purporting to “rate” the Republican candidates–and there’s no news or insight in it. It tells people nothing they didn’t already know, and basically repeats the already-reported conventional wisdom of the mainstream press as if it were a “revelation.”

In a piece entitled “Ranking the Republican presidential candidates: The best and worst,” Cilizza rated Michele Bachmann sixth in a field of nine.  

But you have to understand–the rating means nothing in terms of practical value to the readers.

You see, when I (and most other voters) rate politicians and political candidates–we’re doing our ratings based on things like “integrity,” “experience and effectiveness,” “positions on particular issues”–substantial stuff. These days, a person rating Republican candidates should also consider the fact of “sanity.”

But none of that, for Cilizza. He seems to be rating American presidential candidates merely on the basis of how they do at campaigning. (Really. I’m not kidding. Look at his article, below.)

This “the campaign is more important than the actual substance” stuff fascinates the political flaks that preoccupy professional journalists. (If you do look at the Cilizza piece, I think you’ll conclude that it’s based on what “he’s heard, on what many people inside and outside the campaigns have already said.” That’s not news, at this late date.)

To the voters (the poor b******s who turn to pundits like Cilizza for political insight)–this kind of coverage is worse than useless.

“How the candidate did, as a candidate” is comparatively irrelevant in deciding who the best candidate is. A candidate can run a great campaign, go on to win–and still be a rotten candidate, a rotten choice.

Example: Michele Bachmann’s first congressional opponent, Patty Wetterling, is a fine person who would have been an effective and conscientious member of Congress. She had years of experience working effectively with legislatures on a vital public issue. She worked hard. Unfortunately, she was a poor campaigner.

Bachmann, on the other hand, was not a fine person. She had political bones by marketing hatred and paranoia in the state legislature, had achieved nothing for her constituents during her time there, and was documented nut, liar, and bigot (even back then.) I don’t think any editorial page in Minnesota has ever endorsed Bachmann for anything. Bachmann’s campaign savaged Patty Wetterling that year, falsely accused Patty Wetterling of being soft on terrorists(!) Character, anyone?

Yet under the Cilizza/pro media test of “we only evaluate candidates based on how they did at campaiging”: the nut, liar, bigot non-achiever Bachmann defeats Wetterling. Again.

We’ve seen what happens to America when the press highlights the image and drowns the substance. But Cilizza and other reporters keep doing that, over and over again–unrepentantly. It’s certainly the easiest things to do. Maybe they can’t keep their jobs, if they do otherwise.

So here are two sets of results. The first is Cilizza’s ranking of the Republican candidates, “best to worst.” (Since he you know that rates candidates based on “how they did at campaigning, it won’t surprise you to find that finish in roughly the order that they have hung on through the nomination contest.) The second set of results is my own based on all that stuff that Cilizza won’t consider: you know, “integrity,” “leadership experience,” all that “junk.”

Cilizza: Republican candidates, listed worst to best…
9) Rick Perry.
8) Jon Huntsman.
7) Tim Pawlenty.
6) Michele Bachmann.
5) Hermain Cain.
4) Newt Gingrich.
3) Ron Paul.
2) Rick Santorum.
1) Mitt Romney

Here’s my rankings of the same candidates, based on the substance. (Before you give me hell at who I put at the top of the list, please note that I believe all of them finish far behind Barack Obama in terms of leadership ability and integrity. As a group, I evaluate them the same way that the one my colleagues on this blog does: a collection of Batman villains.)

The first two names, I lump together under the category “so lacking in sanity and commitment to democracy that they’d constitute a danger to the republic if they were elected.”

8) Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul.
Ron Paul’s a kook, floating crazy conspiracy theories, lauding the John Birch Society, rejecting the basic operating mechanisms of government that made America into the world’s most prosperous and powerful superpower in the 20th century. A crank. (Bachmann’s a crank, but she’s even more dangerous and opportunistic. She’s a proto-fascist operating under the patronage of the Christian Right.)

7) Rick Santorum.
Also a danger to the republic; also a puppet of the Christian Right. And despite all his years inside government, zero qualifications for national leadership. When did you ever hear anyone quote Santorum on issues that don’t revolve around the Christian Right?

6) Newt Gingrich.
A liar, a demagogue, the man who reintroduced the tactics of Joe McCarthy to the daily operations of the Republican Party and the US Congress. (“If you oppose my goal du jour, you are an enemy of America.”) A conservative who’s earned the hatred of his own party. Another danger to the republic, an angry, vengeful megalomaniac who thinks laws are for suckers.

5) Herman Cain.
An empty suit, a right-wing puppet who didn’t even bother to study for the office he sought. Loathsome in his personal life, he came to prominence making the kind of loud noise the right wing rank-and-file likes to hear.

4) Tim Pawlenty.
Another empty suit, an opportunist and “career above all” politician. His terms in office can be considered a failure: he left the state in a multi-billion dollar hole and his word carries no weight in Minnesota, not even with the conservative voters who put him in. But he actually governed something, so that puts him out in front of the previous for that reason alone.

3) Rick Perry.
Vengeful combined with “pretty stupid,” held in contempt in his own state. But he governed something. He might have been another Bush, that’s the best thing I think anyone can say about him.

2) Mitt Romney.
Here’s the joke: “A liberal, a conservative, and a moderate walk into a bar, and the bartender says: “Hi, Mitt!” Like Pawlenty (who was inspired by Romney hypocrisy in Massachusetts,) Romney’s a political weather vane, an arch-hypocrite, untrustworthy. Has been that, throughout his career. The fact that he’s actually practiced class warfare and has demonstrated his contempt for the future of working Americans–doesn’t put him behind the any of the previous. He’s governed, and he’s not a certifiable madman like the first names on this list.

1) Jon Huntsman.
Definitely a conservative, an old Reagan hand, an old Bush hand (which means that I would never have voted for him. I think conservatism’s a political cancer in America, the documented road to disasters–and I don’t trust people who want to identify with conservatism.)

But he was too experienced and sane to be seriously considered by this generation of Republicans–so he goes at the top of this list.

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