Ethics Dunce: Rep. Michele Bachmann

Ah! Historical New Hampshire...

Rep. Michele Bachmann (D-Minn), Tea Party leader and potential presidential candidate, recently told a Manchester, New Hampshire crowd that she was in the state of “the shot heard ’round the world.” Ethics Foul. Minnesota disgrace. Congressional Disgrace. Tea Party disgrace. National disgrace.

U.S. educational system disgrace!

As most grade school children know (Some grade school children? Grade school children in New England, maybe? Please?), the source of that loud shot, the Battle of Concord (the Battle of Lexington was fought on the same day) was fought in Concord, Massachusetts, which, like Lexington, is a next door neighbor of my home town, Arlington, Massachusetts, known as Menotomy on April 18, 1775 —which, as Rep. Bachmann can tell you, was also the date of Phil Sheridan’s ride. Oops! I mean Paul Revere’s ride!

Anyone can make a mistake, and public speakers are bound to make many. There are some mistakes, however, that a high-profile individual has an obligation to make a special effort to avoid. In Bachmann’s case, fulfilling this obligation involves:

  • Knowing the basics of the history of the American Revolution when she leads a group that takes its name from an event in that history.
  • Taking special care not to say embarrassingly stupid things when her political movement, her party, and her ideological camp is unfairly accused of being stupid as a matter of course, whether is being stupid or not.
  • Encouraging the depressingly and dangerously ignorant American public to learn about and understand history, and not prove that one can become a powerful political leader without it.
  • Know what she is talking about. In particular, she has an obligation of diligence not to quote literature that she has obviously never read, not to mention to avoid getting Concord, New Hampshire mixed up with its namesake to the south. After all, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous poem is displayed at the Concord battlefield:

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.

The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set to-day a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.

Spirit, that made those heroes dare
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.

Like Sarah Palin, Christine O’Donnell, and other political figures (as well as too many outspoken celebrities to list), Rep. Bachmann not only is reckless about displaying her ignorance, but also unapologetic for it. This is irresponsible and arrogant, and for a leader of a political movement that invokes America’s origins and its Founding Fathers at the drop of a three-cornered hat, it is cynical and offensive as well.

22 thoughts on “Ethics Dunce: Rep. Michele Bachmann

  1. I haven’t checked, Jack… just going by Massachusetts schoolgirl memory…don’t you mean Henry Wadsworth Longfellow?
    One if by land
    and two if by sea
    and I on the opposite shore shall be
    ready to ride and spread the alarm
    to every Middlesex village and farm….

    • This is the forest primaeval,

      The murmuring pines and the hemlocks…..

      Thanks, Genie, for restoring part of my long-fled youth. I, too, found it tedious (as, I suspect, did Sister Mary Bernardine, and she was supposed to be teaching it!).

  2. Rep. Michele Bachmann (D-Minn), Tea Party leader and potential presidential candidate

    Correction: R-Minn. And the Tea Party folks might object to labeling her a “leader.” She’s the founder of the Tea Party caucus in the House, though.

    (BTW, I saw that anonymous posts are frowned upon and I assume that extends to pseudonyms. However, I wonder how you balance that against people’s desire to protect themselves…e.g. keeping your political views separate from their name so that current / future employers have one less reason to discriminate against you.)

    • I allow pseudonyms, as long as I have a good e-mail address and know who you are. I prefer actual names. It’s America. If you won’t stand up for your right to your opinions, then you shouldn’t be offering them anonymously.

  3. Seems to me that this is on par with Obama’s 57 states comment. A simple error or slip of the tongue.

    And my recollection about the Christine O’Donnell “error” was in fact, that she was literally correct about the wording “separation of church and state” not appearing in the First Amendment. That was pointed out early on, and there is no justification for you to repeat the error that she ignorant about the Bill of Rights wording, especially at this late date.
    http://legalinsurrection.blogspot.com/2010/10/what-if-christine-odonnell-were-right.html

    These days, the “live free or die” state has more in common with 1775 Massachusetts than does the contemporary Bay State. So if factually mistaken, at least it is philosophically consistent.

    Hardly a matter of ethics or lack thereof, BTW. Except as it applies to you. The more I look at this blog, the more I realize that it is just a pretense for criticizing political opponents and calling it a matter of ethics. When in fact, ethics has very little to do with it. Perhaps you need reminding that ethics is not a surrogate for your personal poloitical opinions.

    • Having read a few other postings here, I retract my criticism about political bias. I don’t see a consistent political bias here; I was mislead by the first couple of postings I read. A rush to judgment. My mistake, and I’ll gladly own up to it.

      But I also find the indiscriminate use of the word ethics and ethical with respect to some of the issues covered troubling. For example, is it always unethical to lie, as Mr. Marshall indicated in a reply to a different post? Yes, it might be easy to rationalize it for one’s own benefit. But I think it can also be justified as the most ethical conduct, under the right facts and circumstances. Rationalization or justification?

      Relatedly, what one may dislike or disagree with is not by definition unethical. Sorry, but using the word that way is just a cop out.

      And is it ethical to rant about various things said, as was done here, when one may be actually mistaken about what was said or whether what was said was correctly reported or not? Even if Bachmann were negligent or sloppy about her historical references, that does NOT touch upon her ethics. Mistake of fact is not generally an ethical violation. Repeating an accusation, after said accusation has been debunked, on the other hand…

      • Thanks for that. I am so used to being accused of being biased against Democrats and liberals that the same accusation from the other side catches me by surprise….and it is one of the specific comments that the sites policies warn against, and for which I reserve the right to be testy.

        Ethics is the study of right and wrong—at least, among many accepted definitions, that’s the one used here. The blog employs a broad and tough, but not unreasonable, definitions of ethical and unethiacl. Any violation of various ethical values, most of which are included in the Josephson Institute’s “Six Pillars of Character”.
        Obviously some things are more unethical than others. It’s unethical for a kid not to do his chores (diligence, obedience to parents), and it is unethical to torture suspected terrorists—I may call both unethical, but not to the same degree.

        Because my entree into ethics was leadership and character studies, YES, I’m especially demanding of leaders. There is a duty of competence, and a duty to represent your government and nation with honor, and the duty to be trustworthy, above all. A statement like Bachmann’s, in my view, violates all three, and more. There are a lot of borderline calls that I make, but I don’t regard this as one at all.

      • As a side note, Jack does seem to be willing to change his mind at times, and he allows some pretty harshly contradictory views. SMP and I are evidence of that. As we’ve discussed, ethics should be set in stone, but tend to be variable, and different angles and background information can greatly change the quality of a statement.

        Back on topic, I actually agree that this is more similar to the 57 states gaffe than a willfully blind error. This had the feel of a prepared remark, so her writers (herself and/or others) screwed the pooch. If this was an ad-lib, then her crime is more hubris then anything else. If I was speaking in massachusetts, I might make a Yaz reference, but I damn sure wouldn’t talk about the good 80s Patriots teams. I’ve heard anecdotes about those Pats, but I’m sure of my Yaz info.

        • If only you had been advising Martha “Curt Schilling is a Yankee fan” Coakley. Which I also think disqualified HER as a candidate–if you campaign in Boston and don’t know about the Red Sox, or at least know that you SHOULD know about the Red Sox, you don’t understand your constituency.

          Is saying Curt’s a Yankee fan worse than saying the “Shot” was fired in NH? Tough one.

  4. She is one step above the famous Teatard Palin.
    Palin has a problem forming a proper sentence, and has her own English language.

    • I think you couldn’t be more wrong. Palin is intellectually lazy, but she is no dummy, and underestimating her is a big, big mistake, because she’s phrasemaker, and has great political instincts. Bachmann, on the other hand, is guaranteed to self-destruct.

      • Palin is a policy and grammar idiot, but a tone savant. She’s scary solely because her gaping flaws cause people to overlook her actual skills. Her flaws would make her a horrible president, but some of her skills could get her there.

        While Bachmann has some obvious similarities with Palin, they are more superficial than important.

  5. Aren’t you reading a little too much into this, Jack? In the course of a high pressure campaign swing, gaffs like this are bound to occur… and do. We might easily recall some outrageous ones that slipped through the screening, including, I’d say, just about anything Biden has ever said in public! Putting it in perspective, though, I’d mention that Concord NH is almost a stone’s throw from Concord MA. All these same names repeated in these county-sized “states” in New England can invariably lead to confusion among any of us who dwell in normal sized states. Bachmann should have known better, of course. But if that slip of the tongue is the worst mistake she can make, I’d say whe’s doing pretty good. I remember when George Bush made an error in mentioning Slovakia for Slovenia (two new and postage stamp sized countries in Central Europe) he was pounded by the press as if he’d mistaken Russia for Rwanda. Such slips can easily happen. It’s when you see a pattern of this occurring that you have to wonder about the intellect of the speaker.

    • I think that’s all rationalization in this case. This is someone who harps on America’s origins…she doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt. It’s like Al Gore going on TV and spewing nonsense about the heat of the earth’s core. A Pulitzer Prize-winning historian who gets up and says that WWII was fought against Frederick the Great is toast, and deserves to be. Would you dismiss it if Bachmann said that the Alamo was in Arkansas? This wasn’t an “if this is Tuesday, I must be in Massachusetts” gaffe—she knew she was in NH, because that’s where pols go before they announce for President.

      A smart, responsible, respectable, informed elected official doesn’t make this kind of mistake, ever. Not on a US history 101 basic, not when she is citing the origins of the country as a core guidepost. Obama’s 57 state slip is not similar at all. If he did it in a speech about the importance of teaching kids geography, then it would be similar.

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