Jacob Heilbrunn

In Defense of Michele Bachmann

Michele Bachmann has been giving liberals a big headache. As well as the GOP, which fears her rise. Now it turns out that the Tea Party darling herself suffers from migraines and takes medication to treat them. Anonymous former staffers says she can be laid up for days as a result. The congressional physician, however, says she is in "overall good health." (Did you know that Congress has a personal physician?) The result has been a brouhaha over her fitness to become president. Tim Pawlenty is going around saying you need to be ready full time, which is a way of slashing at Bachmann and stating the blindingly obvious.

Lay off Bachmann, would be my advice. Mitt Romney had it right when he said she there's no evidence she can't perform the job. Maybe there's a dollop of sexism mixed in there, when skeptics point to her medical issues. But this has been a standard way of tarring candidates for hundreds of years. Thomas Eagleton, George McGovern's vice-president, was discredited after it turned out he had undergone electroshock therapy (which appears to be making a comeback, by the way). Ronald Reagan had to chop wood to demonstrate that he was fit and hale—presidential timber. Bill Clinton went jogging, but was never able to shake the perception that he was on the portly side.

Will Bachmann survive this flap? Unless there is something else lurking in her medical history, she will. The real question would be her political stance. If the GOP adopts her brand—the fiery combatant of the socialist Obama—then it will head into the 2012 election ready for combat. Bachmann herself has tried to focus more on her opposition to debt than her stance on social issues.

The latest flurry of attacks on her attest to Bachmann's importance. The GOP establishment is quaking at the idea that she might make a serious run for the nomination, let alone capture it. but Bachmann—a homemaker and politician—has had the path blazed for her by Sarah Palin. Speaking of Palin, the Washington Post reports today that she continues to retain the power to upend the race for the GOP nomination should she elect to make a run for it. A Washington Post-ABC News poll says that Romney scores biggest on "leadership, experience, and perhaps most important, who can beat the president next year."

But among the Tea Party followers his support, if that word can even be profitably employed, is tepid. He is seen, you could say, as weak tea. Republicans want strong beer. And Bachmann offers it.