Bachmann’s silence is golden

September 22, 2011


Steven Miles and Arthur Caplan are my new heroes. They should be yours, too — if you hold the radical opinion that facts matter.

Dr. Miles, a University of Minnesota bioethicist, offered $1,000 to a charity if Michele Bachmann could prove a link she suggested between vaccinations for human papilloma virus and intellectual disability. Dr. Caplan, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Bioethics, upped the ante on Miles’ offer, adding $10,000 of his own.

Bachmann, the frequently facts-challenged Minnesota congresswoman who wants to be president, wandered into this thicket during a recent GOP debate in Tampa, Fla. She attacked Texas Gov. Rick Perry for an executive order requiring girls in that state to be vaccinated for HPV or, as Bachmann put it, to receive “a government injection.”

It was an obvious attempt to tap that rich seam of anti-government ferment that runs through the body politic. Later, in interviews with Fox “News” and The Today Show, she spoke of a woman who came up to her crying after the debate.

“She said her daughter was given that vaccine. She said her daughter suffered mental retardation as a result of that vaccine.”

And how difficult is it to imagine a scenario where that irresponsible remark pays off in tragedy? HPV causes cervical cancer. If some child now dies of that disease because her parents were made paranoid of “government injections,” much of the blame will lie with Bachmann.

When she found herself pilloried by doctors, pundits and even her own ideological soulmates, Bachmann responded that she wasn’t speaking as a doctor or scientist, but only as a mother. It’s a remarkably disingenuous excuse, reminiscent of a statement from Sen. Jon Kyl’s office in April that an outlandish claim he made about Planned Parenthood “was not intended to be a factual statement.”

Still, it beat the usual strategy of doubling down on stupid, seeking some loophole through which the incorrect can be proven correct. You saw this when Bachmann was hammered on her ludicrous claim that the Founding Fathers worked “tirelessly” to end slavery.

As proof, she trotted out John Quincy Adams who did, indeed, work to abolish slavery. Too bad he was all of 8 years old when the nation began. He was a Founding Child, perhaps, but a Founding Father? No.

But the fact is, facts don’t matter much to Bachmann. She is the avatar of a slimy ethos newly prominent in American politics and life. It is the elevation of end over means, the binding of conscience and the gagging of integrity. It is permission to say whatever outrageous thing will give you advantage, to lie your natural backside off if it will win the argument.

Facts? True believers don’t need no stinking facts.

Or, as Stephen Colbert famously observed, it is no longer necessary that a thing be true. It is enough that it be “truthy.”

Except that it really isn’t enough. Facts don’t stop being facts just because you ignore them. So we are indebted to Miles and Caplan for putting their money where Bachmann’s mouth is, requiring her to put up or shut up. In failing to respond to their challenge, she has effectively chosen the latter.

And she says more by her silence than ever she did with words.

— Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. His email is lpitts@miamiherald.com.


its_just_math 6 years, 8 months ago

To you Leonard and most way to the left like you, anyone who is conservative silence' is golden. After next November, when Mr. Jobs Creator has been given his pink slip, I can only imagine the constant roaring from you and your crowd.

jonas_opines 6 years, 8 months ago

That's all you got?

/oh, new account with 10 posts since yesterday.

//That you, Invictus? Or another? Who's the old face underneath the new mask?

jaywalker 6 years, 8 months ago

L_One's truth notwithstanding, I caught myself agape and incredulous when I watched her spew the 'retardation' line. Getting facts wrong is one thing, making up your own is completely different. And usually fatal from a political standpoint, at least when they're this self-serving, transparent, and egregious.

Cant_have_it_both_ways 6 years, 8 months ago

If Jessie Jackson, Al Sharpton or Maxine Waters would have said the same thing. I doubt this column would have been written.

woodscolt 6 years, 8 months ago

There is no parity to be drawn from your post. They didn't say that and wouldn't say that and that is the point. Bachman did. Another example of no defense so make up something irrelevant and try to manufacture some kind of reality out of it.

Getaroom 6 years, 8 months ago

Right oh Gandalf! So all of you haters of Pitts sure like dismissing his articles simply because you dislike him? This article is to the point and perfectly on target. I mean really, you want Michelle Bachmann as President when she is unable to put even the most rudimentary facts together in one place and one moment in present time? Just stick up for Perry and Brownbackward and will get what you deserve in full. Everything but rain that is.

Kirk Larson 6 years, 8 months ago

Bachmann either has bad staff who don't fact-check or provide her with good info or else, like a lot of republicans, she really doesn't care if what she says is true so long as it riles up the base. See Nicki Haley just recently or go back to the yellow cake debacle.

tomatogrower 6 years, 8 months ago

What fact-check? No woman walked up to her and said anything to her. She was telling stories.

somedude20 6 years, 8 months ago

Bachmann is a great reason why we should NOT be cutting funding to schools!!

ThePilgrim 6 years, 8 months ago

"If some child now dies of that disease because her parents were made paranoid of 'government injections,' much of the blame will lie with Bachmann."

No the blame will still securely rest on the heads of the parents.

Bachmann is not even a legit candidate. So why report on her?

jafs 6 years, 8 months ago

One reason is that this tactic of lying, or being mistaken, and then failing to correct those errors is quite common in politics these days, and doesn't serve the American public well.

tomatogrower 6 years, 8 months ago

Yes, but those fools that blindly follow her will repeat this lie over and over. I'm sure to get something on facebook or by email soon that will tell me this story as fact.

beatrice 6 years, 8 months ago

Bachmann may not have what it takes to win her party's nomination, but she is a legit candidate. She is one of seven up on the stage at the Republican debates and she is a favorite of the Tea Party. That speaks to serious issues with both Republicans and their subset of the Tea Partiers.

Even if Bachmann won't ever win her party's nomination, she is still a United States congresswoman. That is reason enough to report on her.

jaywalker 6 years, 8 months ago

She can't win the party's nomination. She just can't. (I will now hold my breath until I get my way!) I liken her candidacy to Cynthia Mckinney's lo these many years ago, even though Bachmann inexplicably became much more of an early force than the Dingbat from Dekalb ever could have been. At this point, there are only two republican candidates I'd consider voting for, Romney and Herman Cain, and I certainly am not confident of their chances, especially the latter's, unfortunately. And it's fairly amazing to me how the right is unable to produce a decent, reasonable candidate in all this time, and that goes back to the last go round.

bevy 6 years, 8 months ago

I think there are two things here that are really sad. 1. Bachmann has further muddied the issue of vaccination, taking up the gauntlet from Ms. "vaccines cause autism" Jenny McCarthy - who refuses to back down even though the study upon which she bases her claims has been proven to be fraudulent. It is possible that some children will suffer because of Bachman's ignorant spewing and scare tactics.

  1. Because of said spew, the major point that she was trying to make, which I (gasp) agree with her about got completely lost in the shuffle. That point was that Gov. Perry's decision to implement this via executive order was wrong! Having looked around our own state a lot lately, I'm leery of this executive order business. It seems to upset this little thing the Founders set up called the balance of power.

Kirk Larson 6 years, 8 months ago

I sorta kinda agree with 2, that Perry should have set up a program to make the vaccine available and encouraged, but not quite mandated. Bachmann just couldn't leave it there and likely made up the story about "retardation". She should pay more attention to the following: http://jennymccarthybodycount.com/Jenny_McCarthy_Body_Count/Home.html

weeslicket 6 years, 8 months ago

and from ms. bachman....... minnesot'n crickets.....................

jayhawxrok 6 years, 8 months ago

Bachmann is crazy and a documented liar. Romney is great at creating jobs in China and killing jobs in the US. Perry is a liar and proud to be a moron, a slimy scuz that became a millionaire while in office by having his buddies buy land off him at 5 times its value to circumvent political contribution laws. The GOP is pathetic.

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