Michele Bachmann: The Search for Truth

Disregarding the facts, the self-professed "serious candidate" spreads fear and falsehoods on Iran.

“I’m a serious candidate for president of the United States, and my facts are accurate.” So says Minnesota’s Republican congresswoman Michele Bachmann.

But she also repeatedly has said, as she did recently on NBC’s Meet the Press, that Iran has

stated unequivocally once they gain a nuclear weapon, they will use that weapon to wipe Israel off of the map and they will use it against the United States. As recently as August and September of this year, the president of Iran again declared that sentiment.

This has to be one of the most blatantly false statements by a presidential candidate since the advent of the nuclear age. No one in Iran has issued such a statement—not the president of Iran nor anyone else. In fact, Iran repeatedly has denied that it even wants to develop nuclear weapons, and so any such statement would directly contradict that country’s oft-expressed official policy, however true or false that expression of policy may be.

This is the age of political fact checking, ushered in some years ago by Bill Adair, the Pulitzer Prize-winning creator of the Tampa Bay Times’ PolitiFact feature, which seeks to hold politicians and other public personages accountable for the statements they make. PolitiFact checked out the Bachmann statement on Iran’s nuclear intentions and declared it “false.” And yet she can’t seem to turn off the falsehood machine in her brain.

Adair says Bachmann’s campaign statements have been rated for accuracy fifty-three times since she began her presidential run, and in nearly 60 percent of those instances her statements have been adjudged either “false” or “pants on fire” (abjectly false, without even a shred of support). Adair says the only reason the repeated Iran statements didn’t get a “pants on fire” designation was because some silly statements by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad provided “just enough grains” of provocation that could be stretched into Bachmann’s equally silly interpretation, which was nonetheless false.

But consider the significance of what Adair says—fifty-three random ratings of Bachmann statements yielding a 60 percent falsity quotient. Perhaps he should rate her Meet the Press statement that she is a serious presidential candidate whose facts are accurate.

But the Iran statement isn’t simply another unfortunate verbal gaffe or off-the-cuff stretch of that commodity known as truth. This is a statement so incendiary as to be reckless and so reckless as to be dangerous. To attribute such frightening designs to another country is to spread fear throughout the country and anywhere else in the world where the fate of Israel is a matter of serious concern. True, most people have a more sophisticated filter for falsehood than Bachmann seems to and so will dismiss her false expressions as what they are. But not everybody.

And what does it say to other nations and other world leaders when an American presidential candidate goes around stirring up so much anxiety, clinging to an obvious fear-inducing falsehood as a toddler does her teddy bear? Perhaps it says that the American political system can’t weed out even such irresponsible politicians as Michele Bachmann. Or that Americans don’t care about the truth anymore. Perhaps it says that in America there is no longer any distinction between the language of politics and the language of diplomacy.

Most assuredly it says that Bachmann has bought into a line of thought put forth by many who advocate military action against Iran to prevent it from getting nuclear weapons. That line holds that Iran is so irrational a country that it gladly would destroy itself and accept the incineration of millions of its own citizens (in the inevitable retaliatory attack) if that’s what it would take to destroy Israel with nuclear weapons. There is utterly no evidence of this, and in fact it defies logic and common sense. But many put it forth nonetheless in their efforts to push America to war.

The fact is that we don’t know precisely what Iranian intentions are or the state of the country’s nuclear development. We can speculate, however, that if it is indeed pushing ahead with a nuclear-armaments program, one motivation might be the fact that the world’s lone superpower invaded a neighboring country, planted more than one hundred thousand troops on its doorstep and declared Iran to be “evil.” Or perhaps a factor may have been the fate of Muammar el-Qaddafi, who gave up his own weapons of mass destruction in return for assurances from the West that he wouldn’t be bothered. Iran reportedly advised Qaddafi against such a deal on the grounds that the West wouldn’t adhere to its end of the bargain. Now Qaddafi is dead, a result in part of Western military action against him.

Qaddafi was a brutal tyrant whose demise was a net plus for the world. And Iran’s apparent quest for nuclear weapons should be thwarted in whatever way it can be, short of measures that would leave the world worse off than it would be with a nuclear Iran. But America’s Mideast incursion, its bellicose language against Iran, its willingness to reneg on its deal with Qaddafi, even the incendiary falsehoods spread around insistently by a presidential candidate such as Michele Bachmann—all these inevitably increase Iran’s appetite for the kinds of weapons that would protect it from outside threats seemingly presaged by such actions and expressions.