The Corner

Bachmann Overreach

At least that’s the way it looks re Michele Bachmann’s increasingly odd presidential campaign. From my New York Post column today:

Michele Bachmann was always a longshot, but now she’s dooming her own bid to be the GOP 2012 nominee.

Since the last debate, she’s been going after Texas Gov. Rick Perry over his never-implemented executive order in 2007 to require that young girls be vaccinated with a drug called Gardasil against the human papilloma virus, a sexually transmitted disease that can lead to cervical cancer,

Nothing wrong with robust disagreement: Debates after all are a proving ground, where we see how the candidates handle themselves under pressure — and also what kind of people they are, both through their own answers and the questions they pose to their competitors

Perky and quirky in her first turn on the national stage in June, she leapt into the first tier of GOP hopefuls. But at the Aug. 11 debate in Ames, she bickered with fellow Minnesotan Tim Pawlenty as if they were contesting a bitter divorce. True, she finished Pawlenty off and eked out a narrow 152-vote victory over wacky Ron Paul in the straw poll, but it’s been all downhill ever since. 

The way Bachmann chose to go after Perry — berating him for “government injections” of “innocent little 12-year-old girls” — made it sound like the Texan was ordering up fiendish medical experiments instead of responding to legitimate public-health concerns.

Further, there is nothing wrong with states ordering vaccinations — they do it all the time with infectious diseases like polio, and save millions of lives.

It’s fine for Bachmann to raise the issue of possible “crony capitalism” — Perry’s former chief of staff was a lobbyist working for the vaccine’s manufacturer, Merck. But she went way over the line when, after the debate, she repeated the evil lie that vaccines can cause autism.

No matter what sort of emanations from penumbras one may detect in the Gardasil debate, this strikes me as the wrong hill to die on: Custer had a better chance at the Little Bighorn than Bachmann does on this issue. Sure, we can debate executive overreach and even the notion that by vaccinating 12-year-old girls we’re somehow encouraging them to sleep around. But the vaccines=autism tin-foil conspiracy is likely to put paid to Bachmann’s candidacy — which according to her former campaign manager, Ed Rollins, can’t go on past Iowa anyway.

I grew up in San Diego in the 1950s and witnessed first hand the scourge of polio. It was not uncommon at all in those days to see kids on crutches, in leg braces and in wheelchairs — in fact, it was perfectly normal. Franklin Roosevelt was only its most famous victim. Everyone gave to the March of Dimes. When Dr. Jonas Salk invented the polio vaccine, it was cause for national celebration. Ike even gave him a medal. 

Are all vaccines guaranteed to be without side effects? Of course not. There’s a risk in everything in this life. But to allow a public-health discussion to get hijacked by ancillary issues is nuts. So is Bachmann finished? 

Bachmann is bright, articulate and accomplished, an avatar of motherhood and apple pie in a power suit. But she’s going to have to radically improve her game if she’s to continue as a viable candidate.

Sure, it’s tough for her as a woman to walk that fine line between contentious debater and shrieking harridan — Hillary Clinton came undone in the face of the same challenge in the 2008 campaign — but she’s going to have to manage it.

Why give the other side any more ammunition than it already has?

“Life,” said Damon Runyon, “is 6-5, against.” At this point, I’d put the Bachmann campaign’s odds at much worse.

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