All politicians seek to ingratiate themselves with key constituencies but how many are willing to pander to conservative intellectuals? The answer this weekend is at least one. Michelle Bachmann was the subject of the weekend interview in the Wall Street Journal yesterday and the Tea Party heroine and her shout out to conservative economic icons put her devotion to the movement’s principles front and center. Stephen Moore asked Bachmann what she reads about economics:
She responds that she admires the late Milton Friedman as well as Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams. “I’m also an Art Laffer fiend—we’re very close,” she adds. “And [Ludwig] von Mises. I love von Mises,” getting excited and rattling off some of his classics like “Human Action” and “Bureaucracy.” “When I go on vacation and I lay on the beach, I bring von Mises.”
Though some in the chattering classes often dismiss her as something of a crackpot or a Sarah Palin knock off, there has been an interesting streak of intellectualism to Bachmann’s politics. If you add the image of Bachmann lying on the beach reading von Mises to her story of being converted to conservatism by outrage at a Gore Vidal novel it adds up to a unusual self-portrait for a populist politician. Those looking for differences between Bachmann and Sarah Palin can certainly point to their respective reading lists.
The profile also highlights Bachmann’s likes and dislikes when it comes to politicians. Though many see Sarah Palin as her rival, she has nothing bad to say about her potential competition for the votes of conservative activists. But there are no kind words for Tim Pawlenty. Bachmann clashed with Pawlenty while she was in the Minnesota state senate and he was governor and though he is currently positioning himself as a Reagan conservative in the presidential race, Bachman seems to see him as a RINO. When asked whether Pawlenty was a good governor, her reply is “I really don’t want to comment.” This sets up the Iowa caucuses, which will be crucial for the campaigns of both Bachmann and Pawlenty as something of a grudge match between those two old antagonists.
But along with her high-toned economic reading matter, the piece also highlights Bachmann’s lamentable isolationist tendencies. She was one 86 House Republicans to vote for the resolution this past week calling for a halt to U.S. military action in Libya. She opposes the effort to oust the Qaddafi regime and takes a hard-line view of the 1973 War Powers Act that even Ronald Reagan opposed. But though she seems allergic to humanitarian interventions, Bachmann is no foreign policy “realist” since she is a strong supporter of Israel.
Bachmann is clearly a bit more complex than the Palin parody her critics have portrayed her as being. As both Pawlenty and the House Republican leadership can attest, she is no team player. And it is far from clear that any GOP candidate can win by running to the right of Paul Ryan when it comes to slashing entitlements as Bachmann does. But those who underestimate Bachmann are making a mistake. Though some may laugh at the notion of her lying on the beach reading van Mises, if Bachmann is able to harness the Tea Party as well as evangelicals in Iowa, she has the potential to turn the Republican presidential contest upside down.