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Michele Bachmann's Holy War

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Given how Bachmann's stature rises every time she does something we laugh at, it's no wonder she's set her strangely unfocused eyes on the White House. Since arriving in Congress, she has been a human tabloid-copy machine, spouting one copy-worthy lunacy after another. She launched a fierce campaign against compact fluorescent lights, claiming that the energy-saving bulbs contain mercury and pose a "very real threat to children, disabled people, pets, senior citizens." She blasted the 2010 census as a government plot and told people not to comply because the U.S. Constitution doesn't require citizens to participate, when in fact it does. She told her constituents to be "armed and dangerous" in their resistance to cap-and-trade limits on climate-warming pollution. She insisted that Obama's trip to India cost taxpayers $200 million a day, and claimed that Nancy Pelosi had spent $100,000 on booze on state-paid flights aboard military jets.

This is not to say that Bachmann hasn't played a prominent role in Congress. Most significantly, she cannily positioned herself as the congressional champion of the Tea Party; last summer she formed a Tea Party caucus, which she now leads. The public has become acquainted with some of Bachmann's other excellent qualities as a politician — her TV-ready looks, her easy confidence in public speaking, her quick command of a mountainous database of (frequently bogus) facts — but often overlooked is her greatest quality, the gigantic set of burnished titanium Terminator-testicles swinging under her skirt.

While other Republicans floundered in the wreckage of the post-Bush era, Bachmann boldly presented herself as an unfazed, unbowed answer to Obama, leading the GOP charge to overturn the president's two signature legislative efforts, the health care bill and Wall Street reform. That she hasn't actually succeeded is beside the point; at a time when other Republicans seem weighed down by the party's recent failures, Bachmann has pressed on like she isn't even aware of them — which, of course, is a distinct possibility.

At the republican debate at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire on June 13th, which marked the unofficial beginning of the GOP presidential race, Bachmann wiped the floor with the other candidates — admittedly not a terribly difficult thing to do, given that this may be the sorriest group of presidential hopefuls ever assembled. Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Tim Pawlenty looked like a bunch of rumpled businessmen in a subway car watching an old lady get mugged, each waiting for the other to do something about it. Bachmann, by contrast, radiated confidence and energy — prompting Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein to wonder if he had been right when he half-jokingly suggested that "Michele Bachmann is the candidate Sarah Palin was supposed to be."

Here's the difference between Bachmann and Palin: While Palin is clearly bored by the dreary, laborious aspects of campaigning and seems far more interested in gobbling up the ancillary benefits of reality-show celebrity, Bachmann is ruthlessly goal-oriented, a relentless worker who has the attention span to stay on message at all times. With a little imagination, you can even see a clear path for her to the nomination. Though she outraged Des Moines Republicans by blowing off a party dinner in late May, she had already visited the state four times this year and scored key endorsements there. Obamacare progenitor Mitt Romney has already half-conceded Iowa by dropping out of the straw poll there, leaving fellow Minnesotan Tim Pawlenty as Bachmann's main competition for the first big prize of the race.

Pawlenty and Bachmann have tangled for years over a variety of issues ranging from school standards to health care to a cigarette tax. Pawlenty reportedly views Bachmann's decision to jump in and spoil his long-planned assault on the presidency as the equivalent to her having crouched over and peed in his Cheerios. Asked about Bachmann's run, Pawlenty seethed, "I'm not running for comic- or entertainer-in-chief."

Even other Republicans, it seems, are making the mistake of laughing at Bachmann. But consider this possibility: She wins Iowa, then swallows the Tea Party and Christian vote whole for the next 30 or 40 primaries while Romney and Pawlenty battle fiercely over who is the more "viable" boring-white-guy candidate. Then Wall Street blows up again — and it's Barack Obama and a soaring unemployment rate versus a white, God-fearing mother of 28 from the heartland.

It could happen. Michele Bachmann has found the flaw in the American Death Star. She is a television camera's dream, a threat to do or say something insane at any time, the ultimate reality-show protagonist. She has brilliantly piloted a media system that is incapable of averting its eyes from a story, riding that attention to an easy conquest of an overeducated cultural elite from both parties that is far too full of itself to understand the price of its contemptuous laughter. All of those people out there aren't voting for Michele Bachmann. They're voting against us. And to them, it turns out, we suck enough to make anyone a contender.

Related: Matt Taibbi's 'The Truth About the Tea Party'
Take the Bachmann-Palin Challenge: Can You Tell Them Apart?

Videos: Michele Bachmann's Craziest Moments

This story is from Rolling Stone issue 1134/1135, available on newsstands and through Rolling Stone All Access on June 24, 2011.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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Matt Taibbi

Matt Taibbi is a contributing editor for Rolling Stone. He’s the author of five books and a winner of the National Magazine Award for commentary. Please direct all media requests to taibbimedia@yahoo.com.

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