In Florida, Bachmann Must Get Away from Lies and Unpopular Positions

COMMENTARY | Michele Bachmann has plummeted in the national polls since her mostly paid for win at the Ames Straw Poll in Iowa in mid-August. Although several factors have contributed to her lowering numbers, much of it can be narrowed down to two: Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s entrance into the race and Bachmann’s own penchant for saying the wrong thing.

A recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows her receiving only 4 percent of the vote from Republicans and Republican-leaning independent respondents, down from a 12 percent high she enjoyed in July, just after she announced her candidacy. If she wishes to remain relevant and a contender for her party’s nomination in 2012, she will have to begin in Florida (with the CNN debate in Tampa and the Fox News exchange in Orlando, Fla., she will have two excellent opportunities).

Although she made a good showing at the CNN/Tea Party Express debate Monday night, Bachmann will have to stop rehashing the same old talking points she’s been using, not only because they are tired and part of the same old mantra but because some of her points are known to be flat-out lies.

One of Bachmann’s biggest mistakes in the campaign is succumbing to a flaw seen in many politicians but mostly those that have a conservative bent — the inability to back away from something said if it is proven to be false or based on erroneous information. Even when she makes a gaffe, she has a difficult time simply admitting it, having to explain it away or rationalize it or put a political spin on it.

Although many perceive backing away from something as a weakness, it is not. Not being able to admit an error and rectify the matter is a weakness. Continuing to do so leaves one at a disadvantage, one’s position weakened through ignorance and obstinacy and open to attack.

Take, for instance, Bachmann’s adherence to the health care argument as a jobs killer. At the debate at the Ronald Reagan Memorial Library last week, the Minnesota congresswoman, according to the Associated Press, trotted out her scripted lines: “Obamacare is killing jobs. We know that from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, but I know it firsthand from speaking to people.”

It should be noted that most of the national health care legislation has yet to be implemented so cannot be making much of an impact on the jobs market. Some of it has even been defunded, which means that those portions cannot be killing jobs because they haven’t been initiated. And then there is her attribution to the Congressional Budget Office, which never said that the health care legislation would decrease jobs.

In the Florida debates, Social Security will be an important issue. It was a much talked-about subject following Rick Perry and Mitt Romney’s discussion at the last debate, especially after Romney accused the Texas governor of wanting to destroy Social Security because it was a “Ponzi scheme.” Attempting to inject herself into the discussion, Bachmann told John King on CNN Friday : “America needs to keep its promise to senior citizens, I talk to them all the time. I love senior citizens. I care about them. My mom is 80 years old, and my dad is 87. “She said she thinks Social Security should be reformed, but “we have to keep our promises with senior citizens.”

Translated, Bachmann is for dissolving the Social Security Administration. She stated her well-documented position at a Conservative Coalition conference in 2010: ” So, what you have to do, is keep faith with the people that are already in the system, that don’t have any other options, we have to keep faith with them. But basically what we have to do is wean everybody else off. And wean everybody off because we have to take those unfunded net liabilities off our bank sheet, we can’t do it. So we just have to be straight with people.”

Although it is doubtful that such a message would go over well in Florida or anywhere, Bachmann’s inability to refrain from telling lies or misrepresenting facts has been a problem. It might do her campaign wonders should she attempt to temper her remarks with a little honesty. Like simply stating that she means to eliminate Social Security and Medicare if given the chance, only allowing those currently dependent upon both to remain so. Future generations would not be part of the programs because they would cease to exist as the last eligible seniors passed away.

As for backing away from a subject where she is clearly perceived as wrong, Bachmann recently evoked outrage throughout southern Florida when she spoke of countenancing the drilling for oil and natural gas in the Everglades , the protected region that provides drinking water to over 7 million people. After hearing the public, media, and political backlash for a week, Bachmann insisted on CBS’ “Face The Nation” that drilling “anywhere in the U. S.” was alright as long as it was done “responsibly.”

Be that as it may, she did not shy away from going after Rick Perry when she got her chance at the first Florida debate in Tampa Monday evening. She assailed him over the very unpopular 2007 executive order that required sixth-grade Texas girls to be inoculated with the vaccine for HPV (Human papillomavirus), which is a known cause for cervical cancer. She also insinuated that his ties with the drug manufacturer, Merck, smacked of crony capitalism and that the governor benefitted from his relationship with their lobbyist (who at one time was Perry’s chief of staff).

Distraction through well-positioned attacks on the frontrunner will undoubtedly aid her flagging campaign, but they might only distract for a little while. Her comments on Perry’s HPV scandal at the CNN/Tea Party Express Debate could work to cut into Perry’s massive lead in the polls but they — and more remarks like them — will not be enough for the national audience. Bachmann will have to show a more moderate side to capture many of the Republican-leaning independents, something her extreme tea party sentiments have kept her from doing. Walking back some of her more controversial positions — eliminating the Department of Education — and admitting to errors that become lies when retold — President Obama has only issued one drilling permit — would help.

Needless to say, Michele Bachmann has entered what has become in the past few weeks hostile territory — the state of Florida. Unfortunately for the three-term Minnesota congresswoman, many of those that will judge her fate come the primary in that state are neither illiterate nor ill-informed. She might want to take pause in time she needs to prepare for the Fox News/Google Republican Presidential Debate in Orlando on September 22, consider her words carefully, and try to inject something different into her campaign — honesty mixed with a little humility.

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