At a town hall meeting held in the parking lot of a sports bar in the Des Moines suburb of Indianola on Friday, Michele Bachmann asked a small circle of supporters and onlookers, “Why is it that government always wins? Why is it the taxpayer always loses?” Comparing the fiscal condition of the federal government to a family in bankruptcy, and blaming that on “government theft,” Bachmann positioned herself as a warrior against a rapacious behemoth. “Why should we bankrupt ourselves, why should we bankrupt our kids…to keep this thing going?” she asked. “It is a money-eating machine in Washington, DC, and I say it’s time to dismantle the machine.”
Bachmann’s answers, by her own admission, are facile. “This is the great news,” she concluded cheerfully. “The solutions, honestly, aren’t that hard. It’s pretty easy to figure out. We don’t raise the debt ceiling anymore, and you get a grip on your spending.”
With those statements and others, including blaming the recent Standard & Poor’s credit rating downgrade on government spending, Bachmann heedlessly plowed ahead with her anti-tax, anti-government crusade. Earlier in the week, S&P senior director Joydeep Mukherji said that US political institutions were undermined because “people in the political arena were even talking about a potential default.” Mukherji didn’t name Republicans, or Bachmann, but in Iowa Bachmann wore her opposition to raising the debt ceiling as a badge of honor.
But Bachmann wasn’t just covering her ears to the reality of economic news. At the town hall, Bachmann showed that she wasn’t listening to voters, either.
Jim Dawson, the owner of a small metal fabricating business, asked Bachmann a question that cut to the heart of her claim that slashing taxes with the aim of reducing the deficit and debt to zero is the key to economic growth. “We talk a lot about spending too much money,” said Dawson, “but as a small-businessman I know the last thing you do when you’re in debt is cut your revenue.” Dawson pressed further, “When we give tax cuts to the wealthy, they’re calling it a tax increase. Why is it not a tax increase when they’re trying to take away our Social Security and Medicare that we’ve worked for all our lives?"
Bachmann’s answer, predictably, was that revenues are taxes, and those are de facto bad. She maintained that big companies weren’t investing in the economy because of “lack of certainty,” “tax rates” and “regulations like Obamacare, Dodd-Frank [Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act], the EPA regulations and all the rest.” She then denied that anyone planned to cut Social Security and Medicare for “current retirees.” Bachmann blamed any possible loss of Medicare benefits on President Obama, claiming he “is planning on having Medicare go away. How do we know that? He already stole a half-trillion dollars out of Medicare. It’s gone.”
In other words, no real answers for Jim Dawson, but Bachmann managed to turn the event into a victory lap for herself. “I have been at the tip of the spear and fighting for all these issues,” she said of her efforts to undo federal regulations, employing a common evangelical usage of a military phrase. “I will not rest,” she pledged, “until we repeal Obamacare.”
The political activism around Bachmann’s first place finish in the Ames Straw Poll on Saturday, with a close second place finish by Tea Party godfather Ron Paul, captured how economic stresses have been pushed front and center of the GOP primary even while the “foundational” issues of opposition to abortion and same sex marriage remain principal motivators for many Republican voters. In his final speech before the close of Straw Poll voting, Paul, a former obstetrician, launched into gruesome descriptions of abortion, a departure from his stump speech focused on cutting taxes, shutting down the Federal Reserve, getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan and repealing the Patriot Act. In hers, Bachmann lauded Iowans for the judicial retention vote last year that forced off the bench three Supreme Court justices who voted to legalize gay marriage.