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President Bachmann? It could happen.

Right up until this past week, I’d been looking at Michele Bachmann’s candidacy for president as nothing more than an entertaining joke. The woman who famously suggested that the media look into members of Congress to determine if they’re pro- or anti-American, who says that climate science must be wrong because carbon dioxide is not a harmful gas, who thought that the American Revolution began in New Hampshire, could never actually be president.

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But then the Republican debate happened, and all at once the entire mainstream media began taking her seriously. I didn’t watch the debate, but I can easily imagine how a combination of low expectations, innate self-confidence, and contrast with the other boring candidates would have helped her stand out greatly to anyone watching. She is not your typical Republican, and nowadays that’s a huge advantage and one that the media was sure to take notice of.

And once the media takes your candidacy seriously, the rest of the country soon follows. Now Michele Bachmann will no longer be seen as Palin 2.0 but a serious contender for the Republican nomination and therefore the White House. Her history of crazy and/or false comments will be swept to the side, and anyone who brings such things up will be dismissed as a left-wing smear-merchant. “Forget her absurd crusade against the U.S. adopting an international currency—you should be focusing on what she’s saying now.” And as her poll numbers rise and the campaign cash continues to flow, she’ll surround herself with people skilled in the art of making even the most insane candidates sound reasonable.

Michele Bachmann is not insane (though she certainly often sounds that way), and she’s not Sarah Palin (i.e. she’s neither too dumb nor too lazy to run a serious presidential campaign). She is, however, a true believer—as Christian as they come. Read Matt Taibbi’s excellent piece on Bachmann to get a true sense of this. This is a woman who married her husband Marcus because she claims that she, a friend of hers, and Marcus all had a vision from God at the same time. She’s a fierce opponent of gay rights and is as pro-life as they come. These factors will ensure that she’ll have a significant portion of the social-conservative vote locked up from the very beginning, and her uniqueness as a candidate among a field of weak Republicans could easily push her over the top.

It all comes down to whether or not there are still enough sane, pragmatic Republicans left in the party to recognize that Mitt Romney—in spite of his complete lack of solid convictions about anything—is still their best bet to beat Obama in the general election. In 2008, conservatives held their noses and picked McCain because they thought in the end he stood the best chance of winning independents, so it’s not unlikely the same thing will happen again (in which case Bachmann is a shoe-in for VP). But Romney is so weak, so boring, so detested by the Republican base and such a blatant and transparent flip-flopper that his stench might be too much for Republican primary voters even with their noses held. Add to that the widespread (yet obviously false) perception that the reason Republicans lost in 2008 was that their candidate wasn’t right-wing enough, and Michele Bachmann at the top of the ticket doesn’t seem far-fetched at all.

Nothing I’ve written so far is the least bit controversial, but where I know most people will disagree with me is that I believe Michele Bachmann actually stands a very good chance of defeating Barack Obama in the general election. Why? Enthusiasm. Bachmann excites her base. Obama deflates his.

I won’t go into the standard litany of reasons as to why the progressive base is disenchanted and frustrated with Obama—it’s enough to merely restate that the central promise of his campaign was “not to the play the game better” but to “put an end to the game-playing” and in reality all he’s done for the past two and a half years is play the same old Washington games. Rather than stand up and use the power of the presidential bully-pulpit to forcefully articulate a vision for the country and make the (very easily made) arguments in favor of progressive policies, he’s tried to have it both ways on every issue and make compromise after unnecessary compromise with Republicans whom he must know are not negotiating in good faith.

He could secure re-election right now by simply refusing to play these games with the Republicans and proposing instead a massive jobs bill whereby the government will hire millions of Americans and put them to work re-building the nation’s infrastructure (which is in great need of re-building). The Republicans will scream and cry about more excessive spending, but since they’ve been screaming and crying about nothing else for the last two years their objections won’t have so much force. President Obama could make the case that this kind of spending is the best possible kind of spending for the economy, as it puts money directly into the hands of middle class Americans, giving them more purchasing power and thus getting the wheels of the economy rolling again. The American people, most of whom are not wed to a political ideology and who vote solely based on their own financial situation will see one party pushing a bill to create jobs and another party blocking it. Such a bill would undoubtedly fail in the Republican-controlled House, but the legislative failure would be a political victory, and voters would go to the polls next November determined to keep the guy who fights for them in the White House and kick out everyone standing in his way.

But sadly, Obama is operating according to a completely different political calculus. He believes that he’s got the liberal and progressive vote locked up, so all he has to do is drift far enough to the right to secure enough independents to push him over the top. As such, he believes he can compromise with Republicans to look as centrist and moderate as possible at the expense of the middle class. Instead of job creation, this is what we’ll get from Obama:

1- He’s already announced a draw-down of troops in Afghanistan, but one so small-scale and slow that even after three years we’ll still have twice as many troops over there as we did when he took office. That means more middle class kids remaining in harm’s way while billions of treasury dollars continue to be flushed down the toilet on an unwinnable war, forcing us to look elsewhere to cut the deficit.

2- There will be modest cuts to Medicare. Paul Ryan laid the groundwork for an all-out assault on the program that provides health care to seniors, and since Obama has never met a Republican plan that he didn’t want to meet half-way, we can be sure he’ll reach some “reasonable” compromise and weaken the program without completely destroying it (which he will call “strengthening” it).

3- The Social Security retirement age will be raised. In spite of the fact that over 80% of Americans don’t want their representatives to make any cuts to Social Security benefits whatsoever, it’s a foregone conclusion in Washington that cuts will be made and raising the retirement age is how to do it. The AARP has folded on this, and even members of the progressive caucus are saying they’re open to the idea. No one in Washington is going to fight on behalf of 80% of Americans on this issue, so average workers can look forward to a few extra years of work, courtesy of Obama’s political calculation.

4- There will be massive cuts to Medicaid. While many Democrats are at least willing to voice their opposition to this, because it’s politically dangerous to cut Medicare and Social Security too drastically, Medicaid will be the “sacrificial lamb”, as Jay Rockefeller put it. The money’s got to come from somewhere, so why not the program that provides health-care for people who can’t afford it? If you count children, Medicaid pays for the health-care of about 25% of Americans, so one out of every four of us can expect less help with our medical bills, thanks to Obama’s re-election strategy.

I could be wrong, but I see this as a disastrous strategy, one that is almost guaranteed to lose Obama the White House. But Obama believes that progressives have nowhere else to go, and if someone like Michele Bachmann is his opponent, he should easily cruise to victory.

But when an incumbent is running, most voters don’t even consider the opposition candidate and base their decision solely on whether or not they want to re-hire the guy they currently have. If they see that not only is the economy still struggling, that they’re still wrestling with their private insurance companies, their friends are still unemployed, and on top of that they’re now getting less help from the government with their medical bills and they’ll have to work a few extra years before retirement, they won’t care that they’ll be hiring Michele Bachmann—who would certainly be far worse for them—they’ll only be thinking of firing Obama.

I know it seems crazy. And I admit that I just can’t conceive of Michele Bachmann as President of the United States—I can’t picture her addressing the nation from the oval office no matter how hard I try—but then I think of all those conservatives in 2008 who found the idea of a black man in the White House equally inconceivable.

As Bachmann rises to become the nation’s top Republican the idea will gradually seem less and less absurd, and by the time she’s standing across from Barack Obama at the first presidential debate people who might consider her a joke now will have had plenty of time to grow used to the idea of her as president.

In his final act of self-destruction, President Obama will probably instruct his campaign not to attack Bachmann at all, not to call her out on her lies, her religious fundamentalism, or her nutty ideas, and to instead treat her respectfully and agree with her as much as possible. That’s the truly centrist thing to do, and Obama thinks it’ll help him win independents. He never really punched at McCain even when he chose Sarah Palin to run as his VP, and the Obama campaign’s failure to call her out on her idiocy lent her a large degree of legitimacy (temporary though it was). In the same respect, his campaign will legitimize Michele Bachmann.

In the end, most Americans vote on personality, and Bachmann’s is just more appealing. Unlike Obama, she is a fighter. She has strong convictions, and while every one of those convictions might be wrong, dangerous, or outright crazy, she is at least willing to fight for them. Obama is weak, he looks weak, he sounds weak, and he’s governed weakly throughout his whole first term. Bachmann looks and sounds strong, and voters like strength.

I sincerely hope I’m wrong about all of this, but unless we start taking Bachmann seriously we’ll continue laughing at and dismissing her right up until she’s sworn in as president and we’re left with mouths agape, wondering how the hell that happened.

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