I’ve been working for a while on a piece about the stark difference in the rhetoric of the two women seeking the 6th Congressional District. It ran in today’s paper, so I’ll just link to it here and avoid repeating much of it.
Obviously, this is a race between a conservative and a liberal. They disagree about most issues. But the premise of my piece (One advantage of blogging over writing for the paper is you can acknowledge that sometimes a piece has a premise) is that Bachmann’s word choices make it easier for her opponents to play the extremist card. And Wetterling’s answers to specific issue questions are often so meandering and unspecific that they raise questions about how well-informed she is, on issues other than children’s safety. Feel free to quarrel with the premise. But please bear in mind, the argument I’m making is about the rhetoric moreso than the positions.
It’s clear that Dems will portray Bachmann as beyond the fringe. They have for years and now they have higher stakes and a bigger stage, a congressional race, in which to do it. And Bachmann has attracted a highly dedicated group of dislikers who track and document everything she says that can harm her politically. The name of their website, Dump Michele Bachmann, gives you a clue as to their leanings.
The Wetterling case was trickier, and messed up the perfectly balanced frame that newspapers love. The perfect balance for the Is Bachmann too far right theme would obviously be Is Wetterling too far left? And the GOP will probably spend more energy portraying Wetterling as too liberal than on her difficulty discussing issues coherently.
But in off-the-record discussions, members of both parties and neutral political analysts often raise the problems that Wetterling had in her 2004 campaign talking about the issues without sounding a bit like Yogi Berra.
The idea of this post is to add more examples of Wetterlingian and Bachmannian rhetoric and leave it to you to decide how reasonable and/or clear they are.
Before that, a couple of important disclaimers. First :
There is a third candidate in the race, John Binkowski of the Independence Party. From my dealings with him, he’s smart and personable has positions on the issues. He got only passing mention in the story today and won’t get much more unless it appears he’s having a signifcant impact on the race. I understand and care about the circularity of the how-can-he-have-an-impact-if-you-don’t-cover-him problem and I’m sorry and I’ll do what I can in future cases but I already fear this post will be long, as the newspaper story was and I have no theme to develop about Binkowski’s rhetoric. The best I’ll do today is link to his website.
Second (and here’s another beauty of blogging versus writing for the paper, you can write a statement like this and acknowledge the hopelessly selective nature of perception):
It would be wrong and unfair to imply that every time Bachmann speaks, flames come shooting out or that every time Wetterling is asked an issue question, her answer has the consistency of mashed potatoes. But there are those occasions. When I interviewed Bachmann for the story, she said: You are focusing on the most extreme things I’ve said, and many of these are not the issues I’m emphasizing in my campaign. And I said, you’re right. This piece is about the ammunition that your statements have given to your opponents with which to portray you as out of the mainstream.
Bachmann on Gay Marriage
Okay, here’s the full in context version of the Bachmann quote about why everyone should be concerned about whether gays can marry. It’s from a March 23, 2006 MPR debate between Bachmann and state Sen. Scott Dibble about Bachmann’s proposal for a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and civil unions. A caller asked why he, a married heterosexual, should care.
Bachmann: “On a personal level a same-sex marriage or relationship does not impact heterosexual couples. Where it does impact is with the force of law.
Once we change the definition of marriage and have the force of law behind another arrangement that is the legal standard for a state. That has direct implications.
For instance, I’ll give you just several. First of all would be on public schools. Public schools would now have to teach that homosexuality and same-sex marriages are normal, natural and that maybe children should try them. That would have a profound impact upon the belief system of parents, teachers and students.”
Wetterling on the impeachability of Bush
Here’s the full, in-context impeachment quote of Wetterling. It was during a May 10, 2006 radio debate with her DFL endorsement opponent Elwyn Tinklenberg. The question was how she would vote if articles of impeachment against Pres. Bush came before the House. ( Tinklenberg took some heat for saying that while he wouldn’t introduce articles of impeachment, he would vote for them if they came up). Here’s Wetterling’s answer:
“Wetterling: ” I salute — Senator Feingold initiated that, is that right? “(host Gary Eichten interjects: No, thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s censure).
Wetterling: “Oh censure. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m sorry. I think weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re going to have to take a look at holding people accountable, all kinds of people in Washington. Politicians have to be accountable for their actions. I will be open to looking at issues as they come forward.
I think that thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s so much facing the country, I think we have to look at the amount of energy and the end result and what are the impacts of all of our actions. I will be open to looking at where weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re at at that point.”
Bachmann on Iran
Here’s Bachmann, during a May 3 debate with her intra-party endorsement rivals, on what the U.S. should do about Iran:
The question was: “If diplomacy should fail to stop IranÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s nuclear program, what should we do?”
Bachmann: “I think that at this point diplomacy is our option. And we certainly donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want to move toward a nuclear response any time soon or without an abundance of caution.
Iran is at a point right now where America has to be very aggressive in our response. We canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t remove any option off the table. And we should not remove the nuclear response.
However, we must proceed with an abundance of caution. Because we know that Iran is very precarious. And I think we should take very seriously the threats coming out of Iran right now. But again, there are other nations including Venezuela that we need to keep our eyes on as well.”
Just me talking here, but this is an interesting example. Depending on your preferences, you might note that Bachmann endorses diplomacy and caution. And saying that no options should be taken off the table, is almost boilerplate, since few people argue for taking options off tables.
On the other hand, you could notice that, although the question didn’t ask about whether the U.S. should nuke Iran, Bachmann chose to bring it up twice in her answer, to say that it is an option. And then what heck was up with the sudden appearance of Venezuela at the end of her answer?
Wetterling on Iran
Not long after impeachment, good ol’ Gary Eichten asked Wetterling what the U.S. should do about Iran.
Wetterling: “We have to hope. We have to take IranÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s threats seriously. They see a world without Israel and without the United States. We have to aggressively go after them and work diplomatically to try and stop their going forward. I think that itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s part of our not having a strategic plan.
This is an error we made with the Iraq war. We did not engage the support of our allies. And weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve got to pull everybody together at this point and take it seriously with tough economic sanctions and hope that it makes a difference. Right now, theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re hurting and we can have an impact.”
Eichten: “Anything beyond economic sanctions?”
Wetterling: ” Political sanctions. How we all work together. I think the U.N. option has to be given an opportunity to succeed.
We recognize the fact that we are living in a shrinking world and we have to figure out a way to work within this planet. And thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going to take people, serious efforts of coming to the table.
We all have an interest in making sure that Iran does not go forward with their stated plan.”
Take the bit about working within this shrinking planet. Perhaps to some ears that sounds like Gandhian wisdom. To others, meaningless mush. Who, after all, suggests that the answer is to move Iran to another planet? Who opposes people coming to the table? And, ultimately, what do you do if no one at the table produces a solution?
Yikes! This is the longest post in many months (and I was starting to do so well at writing short.) Please accept my apologies. I have more examples that I’ll save for future installments if this discussion catches on. In the interest of leaving some small space for others in the blogosphere, I’ll quit here and turn the question over to you.
Based on their rhetoric, is Bachmann too extreme? Is Wetterling coherent enough?