Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Bachmann and Government Money

Michele Bachmann is an outspoken critic of federal spending, an advocate of old-school, conservative self-reliance, and someone who never misses an opportunity to take a potshot at that perennial right-wing boogeyman, the Federal government. Let's take her at her words:

"I want my candidacy for the presidency of the United States to stand for a moment when we the people, stand once again for the independence from a government that has gotten too big and spends too much and has taken away too much of our liberties."

"During my first term in Congress, I signed a pledge that I will take no more earmarks and I've been faithful to that pledge."

"During the last 100 days we have seen an orgy. It would make any local smorgasbord embarrassed if you looked at this spending orgy we’ve seen in Washington."

Solid, conservative statements from a candidate who can be counted on to turn back the tide of federal encroachment, no? Unfortunately, as is so often the case, Bachmann seems to have no problem suckling at the federal teat while simultaneously railing against those who would like to suckle beside her. It has already been well documented in Ryan Lizza's excellent profile for the New Yorker of Bachmann's intellectual and philosophical roots that Bachmann, despite her rhetoric, has lived extensively off of the state [emphasis mine]:

Michele enrolled at the College of William and Mary and, in 1988, got a master’s of law in taxation. They had had their first child while she was on a break from law school, and their second arrived while they were living in Virginia. They then moved back to Minnesota. She spent the next four years as a lawyer at the I.R.S. Office of Chief Counsel, in St. Paul, representing the commissioner of the I.R.S. before the U.S. Tax Court and advising agents who were conducting audits and collecting tax assessments...Two of Bachmann’s five children were born while she worked for the I.R.S., and all six former colleagues said that the primary fact they remembered about Bachmann was that she spent a good portion of her time on maternity leave—the I.R.S. had a fairly generous policy—and that caused resentment.

So Bachmann has (in rough sequential order) worked for the IRS where she took advantage of their government-sponsored maternity leave policy - the very type of "largesse" she so often rails against - and then, later, entered politics directly, collecting her subsequent paychecks from the taxpayers. Now, the following revelation has emerged:

Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, a critic of federal spending, received between $5,000 and $15,000 in income last year from a family farm that has received more than $250,000 in federal subsidies, according to her most recent House financial-disclosure form...The farm in Independence, Wisconsin, received $259,332 in federal subsidies from 1995 to 2008, according to U.S. government data compiled by the Environmental Working Group, a Washington-based research and advocacy organization focusing on public health and environmental issues.

Bachmann denies that she or her husband have benefited financially from the farm, which is held in a sort of family trust (to give the $.25 summary). The farm, however, is not the only Bachmann family enterprise to snap up government funds:

Bachmann, 55, received an extension from the May 15 deadline for submitting the annual disclosure forms. She reported that her husband’s psychotherapy practice and clinic was valued at $600,000 to $1.25 million.
The clinic received $30,000 in government money, which Bachmann said on “Fox News Sunday” in June went to train employees.

Leaving aside whether it's appropriate for a clinic that practices "corrective therapy" on homosexuals, a practice long repudiated by the APA, to receive government funding, this strikes me as the rankest (and, depressingly, most common) form of hypocrisy, and is representative of the gap between rhetoric and reality that permeates the Tea Party movement. If the spectacle of elderly Tea Partiers railing against a "government takeover of Medicare" (?) isn't enough to drive this point home, Matt Taibbi shared his impressions of a Tea Party rally in October of last year:

Scanning the thousands of hopped-up faces in the crowd, I am immediately struck by two things. One is that there isn't a single black person here. The other is the truly awesome quantity of medical hardware: Seemingly every third person in the place is sucking oxygen from a tank or propping their giant atrophied glutes on motorized wheelchair-scooters. As Palin launches into her Ronald Reagan impression — "Government's not the solution! Government's the problem!" — the person sitting next to me leans over and explains.

"The scooters are because of Medicare," he whispers helpfully. "They have these commercials down here: 'You won't even have to pay for your scooter! Medicare will pay!' Practically everyone in Kentucky has one."

A hall full of elderly white people in Medicare-paid scooters, railing against government spending and imagining themselves revolutionaries as they cheer on the vice-presidential puppet hand-picked by the GOP establishment. If there exists a better snapshot of everything the Tea Party represents, I can't imagine it.

While Taibbi's piece refers specifically to the crowd at a Sarah Palin rally during the 2008 election, it's still salient and applicable today (maybe even more so). If Bachmann takes the helm of the 2012 Republican campaign, we will see much more of this.

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